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The Kepler team pushes for a mission extension in order to find Earth-sized planets.
The Kepler spacecraft has hit an unexpected obstacle as it patiently watches the heavens for exoplanets: too many rowdy young stars. The orbiting probe detects small dips in the brightness of a star that occur when a planet crosses its face. But an analysis of some 2,500 of the tens of thousands of Sun-like stars detected in Kepler’s field of view has found that the stars themselves flicker more than predicted, with the largest number varying twice as much as the Sun. That makes it harder to detect Earth-sized bodies. As a result, the analysis suggests that Kepler will need more than double its planned mission life of three-and-a-half years to achieve its main goal of determining how common Earth-like planets are in the Milky Way.
While it is important to find those Earth-sized planets, to me the important discovery here is that Kepler is confirming what previous research has suggested: Stars like our Sun are generally far more active and variable than the Sun itself. Which means that either the Sun is unusual, or has been unusually inactive during recorded human history.