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VLT joins search for Alpha Centauri’s planets

VLT and Alpha Centauri
The ESO’s Very Large Telescope looms in the foreground of this image, and a star map has been superimposed on the sky to show the locations of Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri. (ESO Photo)

One of the most powerful observing instruments on Earth, the Very Large Telescope, will join the search for potentially habitable planets around the Alpha Centauri star system.

The survey will take place in 2019 under the terms of an agreement signed by the European Southern Observatory, which operates the VLT in Chile, and by the Breakthrough Initiatives.

The Breakthrough Initiatives are funded by such luminaries as Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The effort includes in a radio search for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations, known as Breakthrough Listen; and a plan to send swarms of nano-probes through the Alpha Centauri system, known as Breakthrough Starshot.

For months, the Breakthrough team has been working out the details for a campaign to look for worlds around Alpha Centauri, informally known as Breakthrough Watch. Such observations would complement Breakthrough Starshot.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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