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Gone perhaps, but Kepler won't soon be forgotten

Astronomers look forward to building on planet-hunting telescope's discoveries

When scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics scheduled a conference called “Exoplanets in the Post-Kepler Era,” they figured that era would still be several years away when the meeting happened. But after last week’s malfunction of a crucial piece of equipment on NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, the May 20 gathering of more than 100 astronomers in Cambridge, Mass., proved all too timely.

As astronomers presented new planetary measurements and observing techniques at the conference, Kepler engineers in California were strategizing about how to remotely repair one of two broken reaction wheels that precisely point the telescope. It will take at least several weeks before they beam commands up to the $600-million telescope, and they admit that a fix is a long shot.

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