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How to get to Alpha Centauri

What is the Alpha Centauri ?

Alpha Centauri is a gravitationally bound system of the closest stars and exoplanets to Earth’s Solar System at 4.37 light-years (1.34 parsecs) from the Sun. The name is Latinized from α Centauri, and abbreviated Alpha Cen or α Cen. It is a triple star system, consisting of the three stars: α Centauri A (officially Rigil Kentaurus), α Centauri B (officially Toliman), and the closest star α Centauri C (officially Proxima Centauri).

This artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B, a member of the triple star system that is the closest to Earth. Alpha Centauri B is the most brilliant object in the sky and the other dazzling object is Alpha Centauri A. Our own Sun is visible to the upper right. The tiny signal of the planet was found with the HARPS spectrograph on the 3.6-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Alpha Centauri A and B are Sun-like stars (Class G and K), and together they form the binary star Alpha Centauri AB. To the naked eye, the two main components appear to be a single star with an apparent magnitude of −0.27, the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus and the third-brightest in the night sky, outshone only by Sirius and Canopus.

Alpha Centauri A has 1.1 times the mass and 1.519 times the luminosity of the Sun, while Alpha Centauri B is smaller and cooler, at 0.907 times the Sun’s mass and 0.445 times its luminosity. The pair orbit around a common centre with an orbital period of 79.91 years. Their elliptical orbit is eccentric, so that the distance between A and B varies from 35.6 AU (astronomical units), or about the distance between Pluto and the Sun, to 11.2 AU, or about the distance between Saturn and the Sun.

Alpha Centauri C, or Proxima Centauri, is a small and faint red dwarf (Class M). Though not visible to the naked eye, Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Sun at a distance of 4.24 light-years (1.30 pc), slightly closer than Alpha Centauri AB. Currently, the distance between Proxima Centauri and Alpha Centauri AB is about 13,000 astronomical units (0.21 ly), equivalent to about 430 times the radius of Neptune’s orbit.

Proxima Centauri has two planets: Proxima b, an Earth-sized exoplanet in the habitable zone discovered in 2016; and Proxima c, a super-Earth 1.5 AU away, which is possibly surrounded by a huge ring system, discovered in 2019. Alpha Centauri A may have a Neptune-sized habitable-zone planet, though it is not yet known to be planetary in nature and could be an artifact of the discovery mechanism. Alpha Centauri B has no known planets: planet Bb, purportedly discovered in 2012, was found to be an artifact, and a separate transiting planet has yet to be confirmed.

Today we’ll be looking at the ONLY realistic ways to get to Alpha Centauri. By our current technological capabilities, a spaceship accelerated to 80km/s would have to travel for roughly 18000 years to get to Alpha Centauri. For reference, in this timeframe, humans progressed from creating the first organized settlements to our modern-day society. So conventional fuel isn’t an option.

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