NASA wants to know if Alpha Centauri is habitable

(ORDO NEWS) — In July, two sounding rockets will be launched from Australia to conduct experiments to determine whether ultraviolet light from the stars of the Alpha Centauri system could be harmful to the existence of potential life on the planets orbiting them.

Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to Earth, 4.3 light years away from us. It is a triple star system in the constellation Centaurus, formed by the stars Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, and the red dwarf Alpha Centauri C, also known as Proxima Centauri.

NASA has already launched the first sounding rocket from northern Australia on July 6, and the second will go into space on the 12th. These missions will help scientists understand how starlight affects the planet’s atmosphere.

Ultraviolet light, whose wavelength is shorter than the light visible to the human eye, is a decisive factor in the search for life.

A small amount of ultraviolet light can help form the molecules needed for life, but too much can destroy the atmosphere, leaving behind a planet unsuitable for life as we know it.

The sounding rockets will fly in a parabolic trajectory, spending approximately 20 minutes in space before re-entering the atmosphere.

NASA wants to know if Alpha Centauri is habitable 2
Stars of Alpha Centauri. Left – Alpha Centauri A, right – Alpha Centauri B

SISTINE (July 6 mission) collects data at longer wavelengths of the far ultraviolet, while DEUCE (July 12 mission) complements them by capturing shorter wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet.

The wavelength coverage will overlap slightly so that the collected data can be calibrated and used as one dataset. This information will then be used to create models to help astronomers estimate which other star systems could support a habitable environment.

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