Nasa is preparing to launch a mission which could answer the question of whether humanity is alone in the universe.
The space agency has begun planning for a mission to humanity’s nearest star system: Alpha Centauri.
Recent research suggests there are several planets in this system and some of them could have the right conditions to support life.
It’s hoped that a probe will be sent to Alpha Centauri in 2069, which probably means few people alive today will be around to see the results.
However, there’s one major problem.
Using current technology, it would take 30,000 years to travel the 25 trillion miles (4.37 light years) to Alpha Centauri.
Nasa hopes it will be able to build spacecraft which travel at one-tenth of the speed of light, meaning a probe could journey to the star system in about 44 years.
Once the probe is there, it will scan the planets to see if they are home to alien organisms or capable of supporting life.
‘We’ll be able to characterise the atmosphere. We’ll be able to see the planet, assuming it’s not covered in clouds,’ JPL’s Stacy Weinstein-Weiss, lead author of a paper outlining the concept, told New Scientist.
Although the plan is only ‘nebulous’ at this stage, Nasa has outlined the goals of the mission which means it is in the very early stages of planning.
The mission will not be manned and will have to use some new kind of spaceship, such as a ‘light sail‘ which is propelled forward using the radiation produced by the sun and could reach the very high speeds required to get to another star system.
Alpha Centauri is made up of three stars. Alpha Centauri A and B are both bright, whilst Alpha Centauri C (which is also known as Proxima Centauri) is a dimmer red dwarf.