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Beyond Kepler-22b: Hunting Exoplanets

NASA has found a planet outside our solar system which could sustain life. But does it? As research continues, a deluge of new exoplanets may be discovered thanks to miniature satellites.

What’s the Latest Development?

As Jason Gots said yesterday, NASA scientists have discovered a planet outside our solar system which lies at just the right distance from its star to support water in a liquid state. That could mean life beyond Earth. The planet is called Kepler-22b after NASA’s space observatory which is tasked with finding planets in a specific region of our Milky Way galaxy. Launched in 2009, Kepler has an expected mission life of three and half years. So what is in the works to replace such crucial research?

What’s the Big Idea?

Researchers at MIT are developing satellites small enough to hold in your palm but powerful enough to focus on specific stars throughout the Milky Way, searching for orbiting planets that resemble Earth in size and distance from the Sun. The idea is a solution to the increasingly difficult funding situation faced by science agencies. Called ExoplanetSat, a prototype should be ready to launch by 2013 that will focus on Alpha Centauri, the star nearest our Sun.

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