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Sun shines new life on Kepler space telescope

NASA’s prolific planet hunter brought back to life by balancing on sunlight

1:10pm, May 23, 2014

NOT QUITE DEAD  The Kepler spacecraft, seen in an artist’s illustration, is getting back to work after an early forced retirement. To compensate for the loss of two reaction wheels, the planet hunter will use sunlight to steady its gaze.

Reports of Kepler’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

NASA’s flagship planet hunter, which netted nearly 1,000 confirmed exoplanets during its four-year mission, is getting a second chance at life with a little help from the sun. The space agency has given the new mission, dubbed K2, the go-ahead to start observations at the end of May.

Kepler was knocked out of commission last spring when the second of its four reaction wheels stopped working (SN Online: 5/15/13). The reaction wheels keep the telescope pointed in the right direction; any spacecraft needs at least three. Once Kepler was down to two wheels, it could no longer sufficiently steady itself to search for other solar systems.

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