The Kepler satellite was launched into sun orbit March 7, 2009. Its mission is to prove that life exists on other planets in our galaxy. We already have used less sophisticated instruments to prove the existence of several hundred planets in our neighborhood in the Milky Way in just the past few years.
The new satellite contains sophisticated instrumentation that will, first, enable astronomers to detect tiny periodic variations in light intensity or orbital wobble in stars in our galaxy, sufficient to identify the presence of sizable planets, and second, other instruments to identify the fingerprints of oxygen, water vapor and carbon dioxide that could establish the presence of an atmosphere and biological activity within it.
Scientists expect the Kepler will enable, within the next year or two, the definitive identification of a planet in our galaxy that shows the chemical fingerprints in its atmosphere that are believed to prove the presence of life. Proof of life on another planet is being called the culmination of the Copernican revolution, which began back 465 years or so when Copernicus figured out that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vice versa.
What a great time to be alive. I meant to post this note six months ago, but somehow misplaced it. Kepler is still immensely exciting. Better late… Most important, stay tuned to the results.