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Kepler demonstrates that it can still detect planets

RATE THIS! +27
Posted in Science on 20th Feb, 2014 01:31 AM by AlexMuller

Last year, it looked as though the Kepler space probe had nothing to look forward to but the scrap heap. After the failure of two of its reaction wheels, the unmanned spacecraft was incapable of maintaining the precision pointing needed to hunt planets beyond the Solar System. Now, however, NASA has demonstrated that the telescope can still detect exoplanets.

 
In May 2013, Kepler was a write-off. Launched in 2009, it was designed to seek exoplanets by studying the dip in light coming from other stars as their planets eclipsed them in transit. It proved to be an effective technique, with over 3,000 exoplanet candidates detected and hundreds confirmed.
 
However, to do its job, Kepler had to keep its gaze fixed on one spot in the sky with minute precision, a precision that was lost when two of its reaction wheels malfunctioned.
 
That seemed to be the end of the story until NASA and Ball Aerospace engineers figured out that the pressure of sunlight falling on Kepler, which is the primary cause of its instability, could be used to save it.
 
Dubbed the K2 mission concept, the idea was to angle the spacecraft in such a way that while the sunlight pressed the craft in one direction, the remaining two reaction wheels pressed in the opposite. This way, the forces balanced out and Kepler could remain relatively steady for at least part of its orbit.

Tags: spaceNASAKeplerplanetsexoplanets

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Comments

Author: Guest
Posted: 2014-02-20
+2
It is great to see Kepler in action again and also that there is so much knowledge and expertise that can be put to rescue when things go wrong - great
2 Replies
Author: Guest
Posted: 2014-02-20
+2
Yes, but NASA stated that Kepler hasn't anything near the precision that it previously had and they will try to make further improvements - clearly there are some task that can be done in the current state Reply
Reply
Author: Guest
Posted: 2014-02-20
+0
Great news! It is encouraging to see that this big Kepler project will continue and that problems can be solved when something goes wrong. Hopefully we will see more discoveries and more new planets outside the solar system
2 Replies
Author: Guest
Posted: 2014-02-20
+1
Yes, great! It would appear that news of Kepler's demise has been greatly exaggerated. Kepler suffered a major malfunction last May and now is back online — and it's already managed to observe another planet. Reply
Reply
Author: Guest
Posted: 2014-02-20
+0
Interestingly, it was also discovered recently that some of these planets also have moons. Scientists discovered one such exomoon, and the planet accompanying it, via something called gravitational microlensing.
1 Replies
Author: Guest
Posted: 2014-02-20
+0
Yes, very interesting. This exomoon and its planet, if they are correct, would be unlike anything we’ve seen before. Also, now that scientists know what to look for, we may spot more exomoons in the future. Reply
Reply


 

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