NASA Begins Hunt for Earth-Like Planets

By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 5, 2009 7:20 PM CST
Saturn's moon Enceladus is seen here as a white disk across the unilluminated side of Saturn's rings.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – NASA will launch its Kepler space telescope tomorrow on a 3-year mission to look for planets as habitable to life as Earth, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Kepler will use a sophisticated digital camera, 10 times more sensitive than consumer models, to survey distant stars for orbiting planets with just the right credentials. “It’s quite an exciting time to be alive,” one scientist said.

Kepler will stare at the same patch of 100,000 stars during its mission. Even if it doesn’t find anything, that’s something. “It will mean that Earths must be very rare,” the mission leader said. “We may be the only extant life.” The $591 million is scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral tomorrow night.