After a failure that almost spelled its death, NASA’s space telescope Kepler is back in business and has already discovered another exoplanet.
Kepler was launched with great fanfare in 2009 on a mission to explore our region of the Milky Way galaxy. Focused on one small area of sky, it detected hundreds of distant planets.
But one of its critical components, the four-wheel system for stabilizing it in order to get clear pictures of very distant objects, failed last year, resulting in practically unusable blurry images.
However, scientists saved it from being scrapped by using the continuous pressure of the sunlight’s photons to counterbalance the effect of the two remaining stabilizing wheels.
Since then, Kepler has detected another planet, approximately 2.5 times bigger than Earth and 180 light-years away, in the constellation of Pisces. The planet, named Kepler-186f, orbits its star in the so-called “habitable zone,” which means there may be liquid water on its surface.
Scientists say so far the Kepler mission showed that the most common planets in our galaxy are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.