Kepler’s exoplanet survey jeopardized by two issues

Posted: October 16, 2012

NASA’s Kepler space telescope, a sleuth with electronic eyes, needs an extra four years to meet its goal of finding an Earth-sized planet in habitable zones around other stars, but a critical hardware failure aboard the probe this summer has managers worried the mission could end at any time.

Launched in March 2009, the $600 million observatory is stationed in an Earth-trailing solar orbit and aims its 3.1-foot telescope toward constellations Cygnus and Lyra, observing a 10-degree-wide field containing 4.5 million detectable stars. Kepler is focusing on approximately 156,000 stars for the purposes of its research.

Kepler monitors the stars for dips in brightness, an indication a planet could be passing in front of it.

Astronomers using data from Kepler have confirmed 77 new planets beyond the solar system. Including data to be released by the end of October, there are nearly 3,000 candidates for exoplanets waiting to be verified by follow-up observations, according to William Borucki, the Kepler mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

But two issues with Kepler have the attention of scientists and engineers.

Read more: Spaceflight Now | Breaking News | Kepler's exoplanet survey jeopardized by two issues.

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