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ExoPlanetSat nanosatellite to begin search for alien worlds next year

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SETI's search for intelligent life in outer space may be on ice for the time being, but the search for alien planets that may possibly support life of some sort is now being bolstered by a number of new efforts. One of the latest is the so-called ExoPlanetSat nanosatellite developed by MIT and Draper Laboratory, which recently got the go-ahead from NASA's Cubesat Launch Initiative and is now set to hitch a ride into space sometime in 2012. While not quite as "nano" as the SIM card-sized satellites that launched with the Shuttle Endeavor, the smaller-than-a-breadbox ExoPlanetSat is still pretty tiny by satellite standards, yet it packs all the necessary optics and technology required for what's known as transit observation -- that is, monitoring a star for decreases in brightness, which could indicate a planet passing in front of it. What's more, while the launch of a single satellite is plenty to get excited about, the researchers hope that it lead the way for a whole fleet of similar nanosatellites that could greatly speed up the search for planets.

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