Cassini's View of Alpha Centauri

Cassini's View of Alpha Centauri

An image of Alpha Centauri (the two tiny bright spots above the planetary rings) as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The Cassini spacecraft primarily investigates Saturn and its many moons as it orbits the famously ringed planet. But sometimes Cassini has set its sights farther afield.

For the above image, Cassini captured a visible light snapshot of the Alpha Centauri System, our nearest neighbor of stars. The Alpha Centauri system has three stars, and two of them (Alpha Centauri A and B) are visible in the image. They're the tiny dots just above Saturn's rings.

At 4 light years away, Alpha Centauri remains a distant, albeit our closest, neighbor. Nonetheless, the system shares many similarities with our own solar system. The two larger stars in the system are very similar to our sun, and astronomers recently discovered an Earth-like exoplanet there -- the closest one to Earth.

Although the recently discovered exoplanet is too hot to support life, there may be other, habitable planets in the system. It seems to be only a matter of time before astronomers find an Earth analogue in another solar system.

More Information:

Physics Central podcast about the recently discovered exoplanet: Alpha Centauri Bb

The Cassini Imaging Team's website