NASA launched a pioneering telescope to survey a corner of the galaxy in hopes of learning if other planets like Earth exist.The telescope, named Kepler, rode into a starry night sky aboard an unmanned Delta rocket that blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Once in position trailing Earth around the sun, Kepler will turn its gaze onto a patch of sky between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra that is filled with more than 4 million stars. Scientists plan to scrutinize Kepler’s observations of more than 100,000 targets in hopes of catching tiny blinks of light caused by passing planets.
“Trying to detect Jupiter-size planets crossing in front of their stars is like trying to measure the effect of a mosquito flying by a car’s headlight,” said Jim Fanson, Kepler project manager. “Finding Earth-sized planets is like trying to detect a very tiny flea.”
A planet the size of Earth that is about as far from its parent star as Earth is, will pass by Kepler’s view just once a year. Scientists say they’ll need to catch three transits to verify existence of an Earth-sized world.