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Year in review: Kepler gets second chance at life

Planet hunter spots hundreds of new worlds

By
3:00pm, December 16, 2014
Kepler spacecraft

BORN AGAIN  This year, Kepler engineers figured out how to stabilize the almost-defunct Kepler telescope, while astronomers found hundreds more worlds.

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The Kepler space telescope is not quite dead. NASA’s planet-hunting space observatory got a second chance at life this year. And mission scientists analyzing already-collected data unearthed hundreds of new worlds, including a potentially habitable Earth-sized planet.

For four years, Kepler stared at one patch of sky in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra and monitored roughly 150,000 stars for tiny dips in starlight — silhouettes of orbiting planets. Kepler’s goals included counting planetary systems and stars hosting planets the size of Earth.

In April, the Kepler team reported the smallest potentially habitable exoplanet known: Kepler 186f, about 490 light-years away. It is just 10 percent wider than Earth and orbits its dim, red star at a distance where

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