What Happens Now That NASA's Exoplanet-Hunting Telescope Is Dead?
02 November, 2018, 23:41 | Author: Kelly Sanders
Mission scientists anxious that the spacecraft may have been irreparably rendered ineffective after the steering malfunction in 2012, though they eventually came up with an ingenious solution in 2013 using pressure generated by the sun's rays to compensate for a failed reaction wheel and aim it at observation targets. It was designed for an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit, which gave the spacecraft a thermally stable environment and let it remain on a single pointing for all of the prime Kepler mission.
The telescope laid bare the diversity of planets that reside in our Milky Way galaxy, with findings indicating that distant star systems are populated with billions of planets, and even helped pinpoint the first moon known outside our solar system. Its positioning system broke down in 2013, about four years after its launch, though scientists found a way to keep it operational.
Artist's conception of NASA's Kepler space telescope.
"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", said Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California's Silicon Valley. Kepler worked more than twice as long as expected, revolutionizing scientific understanding of planetary system formation along the way.
NASA's elite planet-hunting spacecraft has been declared dead, just a few months shy of its 10th anniversary. That number includes about 50 that may be about the same size and temperature as Earth. Overall, the NASAspace telescope discovered over 2,600 Earth-like exoplanets, some of which may host alien life. This solution did not restore full functionality-Kepler could subsequently only aim itself for around 83 days at a time-but it did make it possible to start another phase of operations. "It was an extremely clever approach to doing this kind of science", said Leslie Livesay, director for astronomy and physics at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who served as Kepler project manager during mission development. The satellite is now on its 2-year mission worth $337 million. Water is considered a key ingredient for life.
Does the fact that Kepler found 2,600 planets around those 150,000 stars mean that we can expect only a small fraction of stars to have planets?
TESS is going to search 200-thousand stars for orbiting planets.
"I'm excited about the diverse discoveries that are yet to come from our data and how future missions will build upon Kepler's results".
A successor to Kepler launched in April, NASA'sTess spacecraft, has its sights on stars closer to home. Thanks in part to its groundbreaking camera, Kepler was able to broaden that search and locate smaller, rockier planets much more similar to Earth.
However, later it turned out that Kepler-69c, more like Venus, and life on it, most likely, impossible.
So what now? Several exoplanet-hunting missions are in the works, according to MIT Technology Review, including the James Webb Space Telescope, which is now due to launch in 2021 after a series of delays.
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