What’s special about Alpha Centauri? Well a bunch of things…
It is the closest star (system) that can be seen with the naked eye. It is one of the two “pointers” that in the Southern Hemisphere are used in conjunction with the Southern Cross (Crux) to locate the South Celestial Pole. It is actually a binary star (designation Cen AB) – if you are lucky enough to be south of the equator you can see the angular separation with a telescope. Finally, from an observational perspective, ever since 1689 it has been helping inform us about how the universe works.
– Alpha Centauri is close enough to observe
– You get two stars for the price of one
– It informs us about how things really work
Over the last couple of years I have been involved in a different type of Alpha, part of the UK Govt. Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP). These Alphas have a similar set of characteristics to Cen AB…
The goal of the IDAP Alphas is to test a range of consumer identity propositions and see what happens. Many of our other identity efforts tend to fall into the category of large scale architectural and long term “meta everything” projects.
Cen AB is a “high-proper-motion” star (you can borrow Burnham’s Celestial Handbook at the RSA Bootstrap Party). Its observation blew away previous theoretical models (such as Aristotle’s) about how the Celestial Sphere worked. In the same way IDAP Alphas should help us to learn how a complex ecosystem actually behaves and then re-apply what we learn to do better next time. They are small enough to observe, they engage with Govt. and Industry and will hopefully inform us about how consumers will engage.
The UK IDAP folks are an impressive crowd. Hats off to them, for creating an ecosystem that facilitates so many lightweight experimental and observational projects.
btw, it may also turn out that Cen AB has a planet – which makes it even cooler Alpha
Mandatory Disclosure: my current company is actively engaged on one of the many Alpha projects (Internet Life Verification) which gives me a chance to get some insights from the observers chair at the eyepiece …