2009 – The Kepler space observatory, designed to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars, is launched
. Kepler is a space observatory launched by NASA to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. The spacecraft, named after the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler, was launched on March 7, 2009. Designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way to discover dozens of Earth-size extrasolar planets in or near the habitable zone and estimate how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets, Kepler's sole instrument is a photometer that continually monitors the brightness of over 145,000 main sequence stars in a fixed field of view. This data is transmitted to Earth, then analyzed to detect periodic dimming caused by extrasolar planets that cross in front of their host star. Kepler is part of NASA's Discovery Program of relatively low-cost, focused primary science missions. As of February 2014, Kepler and its follow-up observations had found 961 confirmed exoplanets in more than 76 stellar systems, along with a further 2,903 unconfirmed planet candidates. In November 2013, astronomers reported, based on Kepler space mission data, that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of sun-like stars and red dwarf stars within the Milky Way Galaxy. 11 billion of these estimated planets may be orbiting sun-like stars. The nearest such planet may be 12 light-years away, according to the scientists.