News / Science & Technology

    Kepler Telescope's Planet-hunting Days End

    Artist's rendering of the Kepler Space Telescope in orbit. (NASA)
    Artist's rendering of the Kepler Space Telescope in orbit. (NASA)
    Rosanne Skirble
    NASA is ending its attempts to restore the Kepler Space Telescope to full working order. The US space agency will now focus on analyzing the data collected over the past four years as the spacecraft searched for Earth-like planets around other stars in our galaxy.

    Launched in 2009, Kepler’s mission was to find Earth-sized planets in or near the habitable zone, the region around a sun-like star where liquid water can exist on the surface of the planet. The mission’s principal investigator said Kepler has been spectacularly successful.
     
    “At the beginning of the mission, no one knew whether Earth-sized planets were abundant or rare in our galaxy. Now at the completion of the Kepler observations, we know that our galaxy is filled to the brim with planets," William Borucki said. "It’s likely when you look up at the sky at night and see the sky covered with stars, most of the stars have planets."

    Kepler Telescope's Planet-Hunting End
    Kepler Telescope's Planet-Hunting Endi
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    Kepler discovered 135 planets and over 3,500 planet candidates with a wide range of sizes and orbital distances. Most of these planets are small, like the Earth. 
    Cluster of stars in Kepler's sight. (NASA)Cluster of stars in Kepler's sight. (NASA)
    x
    Cluster of stars in Kepler's sight. (NASA)
    Cluster of stars in Kepler's sight. (NASA)
    The four-year mission was extended in 2012, but ended last week after engineers failed to repair two broken reaction wheels necessary to precisely point the spacecraft. Deputy project manager Charles Sobeck says the decision was obvious.

    “The wheels are sufficiently damaged that they cannot sustain spacecraft pointing control for any extended period of time,” said Sobeck.   

    With its observational capability compromised, the Kepler team is looking into whether the space telescope can conduct a different type of mission, potentially including an exoplanet search, using the two operational reaction wheels and thrusters. NASA has called on the science community for ideas.

    “They are not proposals. They are not asking for funds," Borucki said. "They are suggesting ideas and we look at them [and ask], 'Which of these would be practical? Which of these could we do at a reasonable cost?'”

    Kepler’s scientific mission is not over. The scientific team is now focusing on data collected by the spacecraft over the past four years, which Borucki expects will yield hundreds if not thousands of new discoveries.

    “And so basically in the next few years when we complete this analysis we will be able to answer the questions that inspired the Kepler mission: Are Earths common or rare in our galaxy?” he said.

    Borucki sees Kepler’s journey is a “critical first step in the exploration of our galaxy.” NASA is scheduled to launch a follow-up mission to Kepler in 2017. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will look for larger, brighter planets closer to our solar system than Kepler did.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora