NASA decides to put failing Kepler to work on other research

Credit: NASA

The Kepler Space Telescope has been key in the search for exoplanets outside of our solar system: it has pointed out 3,500 potential candidates, and confirmed 135. However, last year, the space telescope began to have some problems: two of its gyroscope wheels (which are critical for pointing the telescope in the right direction) stopped functioning. All efforts to restore the wheels have failed. NASA has given up on returning Kepler to full working order, but hopes to use the telescope for other space research.

When Kepler worked properly, it targeted a precise location in the sky to study the brightness of stars in that specific area. Variations in the brightness were examined to determine if a planet was crossing in front of those stars. The spacecraft's main mission was completed last year, but was extended to 2016. Unfortunately, after the failure of the second gyroscope wheel this year, the spacecraft no longer had the precision it needed to continue. NASA put it to rest, allowing it only minimal use of its thrusters until they could figure out what to do next.

NASA is now searching through data that Kepler has collected with hopes of determining if it can be used for a different scientific mission in its current state. If so, scientists will then have to decide if modifications will be needed to manage these new missions. NASA is currently reaching out to the public for ideas.

All hope for Kepler's previous mission are not lost, though. There is still a lot of data to be examined from Kepler's working years, and scientists expect that this data will show more new discoveries in regards to expolanets and habitable zones.


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