MIT and Google are teaming up to help find planets that may be suitable for supporting life, getting us closer to getting in touch with some friendly/not friendly aliens. Google is paying for MIT's development of "six high-res, wide-field digital cameras with a 192-megapixel resolution for TESS - the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite." The goal? To find Earth-like planets that are suitable for life, and to do it soon.
The TESS will be designed solely to find smaller planets orbiting close to stars, much like earth. Until now, we've found mostly large planets due to the methods used: checking out the pull their gravity exerts on the stars they orbit. TESS, on the other hand, will measure the amount of starlight planets obscure, making it much easier to find smaller planets.
So the whole thing is due to go up into orbit and start searching in 2012, meaning we could be checking out Earth-like, inhabited planets in like 5 years. Enjoy thinking we're alone in the universe, friends; that notion will soon seem quaint. [MIT News via io9]