Alpha Centauri: getting there – and what to expect when we do

Author: S. Pete Worden, PhD, Brig. Gen., USAF, Ret., Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation

Description: The Alpha Centauri System is the nearest star system to our own at a little over 4 light years from the Sun. A three-star system, it is comprised of two Sun-like stars, Alpha Centauri A and B, and a distantly orbiting red dwarf, Proxima Centauri – the nearest star to our own. The past decade has been an exciting time for exo-planet astronomy and the Alpha Centauri system is no exception. In 2016 and 2019, two planets were confirmed around Proxima and, earlier this year, astronomers associated with the Breakthrough Watch program identified a candidate planet in the habitable zone of Alpha Centauri A. This paper will detail the latest data we have on the Alpha Centauri system and outline the key remaining questions about our nearest neighbor. In particular it will consider the case for life, or the conditions for life around Alpha Centauri and describe ongoing and future efforts to further characterize the system. Finally, it will provide an update on Breakthrough Starshot and discuss what implications these latest astronomical discoveries might have on the interstellar probe research and development program.