Here´s something to mark on your planner for the middle of next year: The possible first sighting of a earthlike planet orbiting another star.
On 20 October, France plans to launch its Corot mission (http://smsc.cnes.fr/COROT/Fr/) to search for extrasolar planets. It´ll stare at a field of a few thousand stars for 150 days, hoping to glimpse the dimming of light caused when a planet crosses in front of the star it orbits.
Why 150 days? That´s as long as astronomers can keep it pointed in one direction, says project scientist Malcolm Friedlund. So after its October launch, expect a month to get the telescope up and running, and then 150 days for the first set of observations.
“We´re hoping in May or June of 2007 to be able to anounce the first rocky planets around other stars,” Fridlund told the ESOF meeting today.
For more on Corot and other extrasolar planet missions, try this link (Nature subscribers only, sorry!): http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060703/full/442006a.html.
You can read more about Fridlund´s personal feelings about extrasolar planet studies here: