Mondo Planet Hunting

Recently launched planet hunter Kepler has just sampled its first exoplanetary atmosphere, and the verdict is in: very tasty indeed! Kepler is able to measure the tiny, tiny dip in starlight caused by a planet transiting the disk of its parent star. So sensitive are the measurements, Kepler is able to provide data about atmospheric structure and the phases of the planet in question.  With the aid of Kepler, scientists are on the verge of detecting Earthlike planets, hopefully orbiting in the so-called 'habitable zone' around their star. Kepler is able to sample very large numbers of stars, so it will provide valuable data on the number and distribution of planets in our galaxy, and by inference in further flung parts of the universe. Exciting times for armchair explorers of the universe!