NASA’s resilient Kepler telescope just won’t give up. After being near death early last year, the spacecraft bounced back and is now discovering brand new worlds. NASA announced recently that the telescope spotted a new planet—HIP 116454b—that’s a whopping 180 light-years from Earth, toward the constellation Pisces. It’s no Earth—scientists believe it’s too hot for life—though it’s still an incredible find for a spacecraft that almost didn’t make it.
Kepler’s stubbornness reads like a feel-good Hollywood story. Two of four wheels designed to stabilize the telescope had malfunctioned, causing it to spin wildly. But a plan, known as K2, turned one of its solar panels into an ad hoc “reaction wheel,” allowing NASA to regain control. This, in turn, gave Kepler the chance at a second life, and now that it’s fully recovered, it’s back doing what it was built to do: discover planets.
Scientists estimate the new planet is about 2.5 times the diameter of Earth, and follows a nine-day orbit around a star that’s smaller and cooler than our sun. The finding itself is significant because planets of this size aren’t very common in our solar system.
“K2 is uniquely positioned to dramatically refine our understanding of these alien worlds and further define the boundary between rocky worlds like Earth and ice giants like Neptune,” said Steve Howell, Kepler scientist.
NASA says since Kepler’s K2 mission began earlier this year, it has already observed upwards of 35,000 stars and has collected data on star clusters, dense star-forming regions and more within our solar system. Kepler’s continued research will give scientists further opportunities to observe the deeper mysteries of space, and hopefully answer the question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe.