Planet Hunters premieres November 15 on The Nature of Things With David Suzuki

Humans have studied the skies for centuries, wondering if a planet similar to ours exists. Now, scientists may be just months away from discovering Earth-like planets, using a new space telescope and a technique pioneered by two Canadian astronomers.

The thrilling modern-day search for habitable planets is the focus of the one-hour documentary Planet Hunters, premiering on Thursday, November 15 at 8 p.m. on The Nature of Things With David Suzuki on CBC TV.

Featuring interviews with leading scientists and an up-close look at their groundbreaking work, Planet Hunters was written and directed by Jerry Thompson and produced by Terence McKeown, Bette Thompson, and Laurie Case for Vancouver’s Lightship Entertainment.

Planet Hunters introduces NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope science team – which includes a number of prominent Canadian astrophysicists – and follows their quest to find the “Holy Grail” of space science. Is there a planet similar to Earth outside our solar system, where water and life might exist? The documentary takes viewers inside NASA’s research lab, capturing the excitement of the scientists’ mission and their discovery of thousands of extra-solar planets that were previously invisible to humans.

Viewers also learn the little-told story of the Canadians who actually found the first extra-solar planet – but didn’t take the credit. A team led by Gordon Walker and Bruce Campbell invented the technique that would revolutionize planet-hunting and help make the Kepler mission possible.

“The big breakthrough came from a team of Canadian astronomers who found a way to see past the glare of bright stars to find and confirm the existence of planets that nobody knew about,” explains writer/director Jerry Thompson. “Now NASA is using this technique and the Kepler Space Telescope to find thousands of previously unknown planets.”

Of these newly-found planets, is there one just like ours: the right size, the right orbit around its sun, not too hot, not too cold, that can sustain life? Planet Hunters highlights the breathtaking significance of the work taking place and how astrophysicists may be on the cusp of a major, world-changing discovery.

“If the Kepler telescope’s preliminary findings are confirmed, then it’s very possible the universe has millions, if not billions, of Earth-like planets,” says producer Terence McKeown. “We may know this for sure in just a couple of years. What will that say about the likelihood of life on planets other than ours?”

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