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21 Sep, 2017 14:28

Alien-hunters crowdsource for all-seeing telescope to probe Proxima b

Alien-hunters crowdsource for all-seeing telescope to probe Proxima b

An international team of professors, astrophysicists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and scientists are attempting to crowdfund a revolutionary telescope to examine the surface of distant exoplanets in nearby solar systems.

The ExoLife Finder (ELF) project is being coordinated by the PLANETS Foundation which has set up a Kickstarter crowdfunding page to build the first prototype of a key element of this new telescope.

“The ExoLife Finder…will be the world's first and only telescope capable of imaging oceans, continents, and life on nearby exoplanets,” the PLANETS Foundation wrote on its Kickstarter page.

“ELF is designed for detecting the energy signature of life or life’s likely chemical fingerprints in the atmosphere from water, oxygen, methane, and ozone, or on the surface from photosynthetic biopigments.”

The initial goal is to raise $35,000 for the mirror actuator which is responsible for moving the telescope's 16 circular, 3d-printed mirrors which would gather light from our neighboring solar systems. The fund has so far reached $17,000 of its target with 17 days to go.

The ultimate goal is to build a fully-functioning telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile at an estimated cost of $130 million and would take five years to complete.

The final version would measure 25 meters (82 ft) in diameter, giving the telescope a maximum range of 25 light years.

Proxima b, an exoplanet discovered last year by the European Space Agency, is the prime candidate for the ExoLife to investigate. The planet orbits Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our solar system, which is roughly 4.2 light years (120 trillion miles) away.

The foundation's previous attempt at fundraising an equally, if not more, ambitious telescope, The Colossus, didn’t quite meet expectations. The $600 million price tag for the 58-mirror optical and infrared telescope proved too much for potential investors but this new project may renew interest in the project.

“In only a few months after ELF is completed, we will know if there is life on [Proxima b],” the team wrote. “We will learn if we have neighbors, small or big.”