Just when the extra-solar planet hunt seemed to be going so well, NASA has announced that the orbital Earth-like exoplanet hunter will not be able to detect a world like our own until 2011 at the earliest.
The Kepler space telescope was launched in March and the hope is that in the small patch of sky (containing 100,000 stars) it is focussing in on, Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting within the "habitable zones" of their parent stars will be discovered. However, there's a problem: Kepler has noisy amplifiers.
Keep in mind that the sensitive equipment on board Kepler has been designed to detect the slightest change in brightness of a star as an exoplanet passes in front, thereby slightly dimming the starlight that is falling on Kepler's charge-coupled devices (CCDs). If you're looking at a star many light years away, you can expect this dip in brightness to be infinitesimally small.
The amplifiers in the space telescope's electronics are used to boost the signal from the CCDs. If there is any electronic noise between the light being received and the data being sent to Earth, the signal of transiting exoplanets may be lost in the fuzz. Unfortunately, three of these amplifiers ...