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NASA’s Planet-Hunting Kepler Telescope Is Getting A Second Chance

by Brandon Russell | May 16, 2014May 16, 2014 7:30 pm PDT

NASA’s famous planet-hunting Kepler telescope has been on the ropes for almost a year after spinning out of control. But the resilient Earth ambassador hasn’t given up, and NASA on Friday announced a mission to revive the beloved craft has been approved. There’s a pretty great infographic explaining how Kepler will be resuscitated—an idea of which was actually recommended by the public—that you can check out at the source. With two additional years of funding, NASA’s Kepler can continue to do what it was born to do—and maybe help researchers find even more Earth-like planets.

When Kepler spun out of control, two of the telescope’s four reaction wheels broke down; the reaction wheels are used to orient Kepler, so with only two functioning, Kepler was sent into an endless spiral. However, a new plan, called K2, will attempt to revive the craft by turning one of Kepler’s solar panels into an ad hoc reaction wheel, allowing NASA to regain control.

Photons of sunlight exert pressure on the spacecraft, NASA explains. If properly positioned, the spacecraft can be balanced against the pressure much as a pencil can be balanced on your finger. When the spacecraft is balanced, the telescope is stable enough to monitor distant stars in search of transiting planets.

With the approval in place, NASA’s Kepler will have an opportunity to track down new star clusters, galaxies and more. The first wheel will be put into motion as soon as May 30, making use of solar radiation pressure to help balance the probe. NASA said Kepler is designed to study a specific portion of space for approximately 83 days, after which the craft is rotated to prevent sunlight from entering the telescope.

As noted by Space.com, Kepler was initially launched in 2009 with a life expectancy of four years. During its time floating through the cosmos, Kepler has spotted many Earth-like candidates in the Milky Way galaxy; it does so by “noting the tiny brightness dips caused when the planets cross in front of their parent stars from the instrument’s perspective,” Space.com said. Now all we need to do is figure out this whole interstellar travel problem.

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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...


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