If you haven’t read Across the Universe by Beth Revis, you should. It’s got science, political intrigue, and a healthy dose of human nature—everything a science fiction novel should have. It’s set on a space ship carrying colonists to a new planet in Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our own Solar System. Until recently, scientists assumed Alpha Centauri couldn’t have planets, but new discoveries have called that into question.
Alpha Centauri is a binary star, meaning it is actually two stars orbiting each other. A third star, Proxima Centauri, may also be part of the Alpha Centauri system, or it may simply be passing nearby. It seemed impossible for planets to form and survive with the gravity of all these stars pulling in so many different directions, yet scientists recently found a planet orbiting another binary star, Kepler-16.
Right now, the Planetary Society is gathering funding to take a closer look at Alpha Centauri. The Planetary Society is a nonprofit organization started by Carl Sagan, among others, and currently headed by Bill Nye the Science Guy. They plan to rent time at an observatory in Chile to watch Alpha Centauri for twenty nights straight, hoping a planet will reveal itself during that time.
If you want to help, click here to donate to the Planetary Society’s Alpha Centari project (select Finds Exo-earths on the drop down menu where is says “direct my gift to”). Just think how cool it will be if they do find a planet and you can say you helped! By the way, I am a member of the Planetary Society. It doesn’t cost much to join, and your membership fees will help this and other research on space and space travel. If you’re interested in joining, click here.
According to some experts, the discovery of a planet—especially a habitable one—in Alpha Centauri would lead to immediate planning for an unmanned mission to check it out. Later, we might decide to send human colonists, just like in Across the Universe. The folks at SpaceRip.com have put together an excellent documentary on what it will take to reach Alpha Centauri. Click here to see it.
Also, Centauri Dreams recently posted an interesting analysis of Proxima Centauri. It’s extremely unlikely Proxima has any planets, but not impossible. Click here to find out why.