‘Very Large Telescope’ Will Hunt For Distant Planets

Jan 10, 2017 at 12:27 PM ET

This giant telescope is about to get a major upgrade to hunt for distant planets. The aptly named Very Large Telescope (VLT) is owned by the European Southern Observatory. ESO has partnered with Stephen Hawking’s company Breakthrough Initiative for the upgrade. The telescope will be adapted to reduce the amount of incoming stellar light, greatly improving the image quality. VLT will be used to search for planets in our closest star system, Alpha Centauri.

The goal is to find planets for Hawking’s proposed mission Breakthrough Starshot. That mission will use small “nanocrafts” to explore Alpha Centauri. Lasers will accelerate the craft to 134 million mph — 1/5 the speed of light. With the upgrade, VLT could be the first telescope to spot a planet in Alpha Centauri.