NASA's planet-hunting Kepler mission got a four-year boost to its funding yesterday, and the fields of astronomy and astrophysics breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Originally scheduled to run out of money this November, the incredibly successful space observatory has been guaranteed enough cash to continue operating through 2016.
The fact that there was any concern over the mission's future to begin with is a little hard to fathom. The Kepler space telescope has been in operation since 2009, and in that time has — and this is by no means an exaggeration — revolutionized the way we search for and understand planets beyond our solar system.
In just three years, it's managed to find over 2300 candidate exoplanets — more than quadrupling the total number of exoplanets we'd found in all years previous. So far, 61 of these candidates have been verified, but researchers believe at least 80 percent of them will wind up being confirmed. Meanwhile, the number of extrasolar candidates continues to climb, and the more data Kepler collects, the better the mission becomes at seeking out Earth-sized, habitable planets. If Earth 2.0 is out there, researchers don't think it will be long before we find it — assuming we haven't already. [SPACE.com]