"Kepler is a critical component in NASA's broader efforts to ultimately find and study planets where Earth-like conditions may be present," said Jon Morse, the Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The planetary census Kepler takes will be very important for understanding the frequency of Earth-size planets in our galaxy and planning future missions that directly detect and characterize such worlds around nearby stars."
The mission will spend three and a half years surveying more than 100,000 sun-like stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of our Milky Way galaxy. It is expected to find hundreds of planets the size of Earth and larger at various distances from their stars. If Earth-size planets are common in the habitable zone, Kepler could find dozens; if those planets are rare, Kepler might find none.
In the end, the mission will be our first step toward answering a question posed by the ancient Greeks: are there other worlds like ours or are we alone?
NASA's Kepler mission has taken its first images of the star-rich sky where it will soon begin hunting for planets like Earth. The new "first light" images show the mission's target patch of sky, a vast, starry field in the Cygnus-Lyra region of our Milky Way galaxy. For the next three-and-a-half years, Kepler will search more than 100,000 sun-like stars for signs of planets:
The Kepler spacecraft is designed to stare at one region of our Milky Way galaxy and capture images of any transits it sees: