New Mission To Scour Our Interstellar Neighbourhood for Planets that Could Sustain Life

A new space mission to hunt for potentially habitable planets around Earth's closest neighbouring star system is under way. From a report: In a project with echoes of the 2009 film Avatar, an international collaboration of scientists in Australia and the US will search in the Alpha Centauri star system for earth-like planets that could sustain life. Alpha Centauri -- Earth's closest neighbouring star system -- consists of two sun-like stars, known as Alpha Centauri A and B, and a more distant red dwarf star. The Toliman mission, named after the ancient Arabic-derived name for the star system, will search for potential planets orbiting Alpha Centauri A and B. The Toliman telescope, which is under construction, is set to be launched into low-earth orbit in 2023. It seeks to discover new planets in the "Goldilocks orbit" -- at the right distance, so the planet is neither too hot nor too cold to sustain life. Project leader Prof Peter Tuthill, of the University of Sydney, said: "If we're looking for life as we know it, usually the gold standard is a planet where liquid water could be present at the surface of the planet â" so it's not like a frozen snowball, and it doesn't boil all the water up into the atmosphere." "We know that life has evolved at least once, around a sun-like star on an earth-like planet," Tuthill said. "We try to look for other examples that are as close to that configuration as possible."

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