NASA's Planet-Hunting Telescope Will Never Hunt Planets Again
On Thursday, NASA announced that they'd given up on repair attempts to the Kepler Space Telescope, after a second navigational wheel (there are four in total) on the spacecraft stopped working in May.
On Thursday, NASA announced that they'd given up on repair attempts to the Kepler Space Telescope, after a second navigational wheel critical to the spacecraft's mission (there are four in total) stopped working in May. That officially ends the Kepler's mission to find new, possibly habitable planets around other stars. Instead, NASA's in the middle of collecting ideas for what else they can do with their otherwise perfectly-functional telescope orbiting the sun.
But don't worry: NASA will probably still discover more promising planets. Analysts haven't yet worked through all the data collected by Kepler before it went down for the count. That data has given researchers a lot to work with: they've found 135 potentially habitable exoplanets, and identified over 3,500 candidates. According to William Borucki at NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory, researchers are still pretty pumped about the work ahead of them (via the New York Times):
“The most exciting discoveries are going to come in next few years as we search through this data. In the next few years we’re going to be able to answer the questions that inspired Kepler: are Earthlike planets common or rare in the galaxy?”
NASA still has two-years worth of data left from Kepler to analyze.
While Kepler's future mission is up in the air, any future use of the telescope will have to do without the craft's former precision. To collect data on possible planets, researchers needed incredible control over Kepler's movements — it looked for slight drops in brightness from stars, with the amount of light blocked indicating the size of the planet. And because it orbits the sun, NASA won't send a team out to repair or modify it. So far, the mission — launched in 2009, has cost $600 million. NASA's currently studying the best use of the telescope going forward (for instance, using it to hunt for asteroids), and whether the money allotted to the mission for the rest of 2013 could be better spent elsewhere. They've also put out a call for papers with "two-wheel" Kepler ideas. So definitely send your thoughts to NASA.