Dead in the wa­ter

What hap­pened: Ke­pler loses its sec­ond re­ac­tion wheel When it hap­pened: March 2013

All About Space - - Kepler’s Best Bits -

Dis­as­ter struck the Ke­pler mis­sion in May 2013 when the tele­scope lost its sec­ond of four re­ac­tion wheels. These wheels are es­sen­tially gy­ro­scopes which spin to move the tele­scope and point it to­wards dis­tant stars.

The tele­scope needed three of these wheels to work, and af­ter one was lost in July 2012, the worst hap­pened in May 2013 when an­other failed.

Af­ter months of test­ing, sci­en­tists con­firmed the tele­scope would not be able to re­turn to its pre­vi­ous full op­er­a­tion. How­ever, hope was not lost. Sci­en­tists came up with an in­ge­nious so­lu­tion to solve the is­sue, us­ing the pres­sure of the Sun’s ra­di­a­tion to act as a makeshift third re­ac­tion wheel.

Think­ing this would only be use­ful to ob­serve su­per­novae and other larger phe­nom­ena, sci­en­tists were sur­prised in 2014 to find an ex­o­planet hid­ing in the lat­est batch of Ke­pler data fol­low­ing this re­pur­pos­ing. Two years later a new mis­sion for the tele­scope had been ap­proved, dubbed K2 or ‘sec­ond light’, and the dis­cov­ery of ex­o­plan­ets could con­tinue.

The K2 mis­sion meant Ke­pler could stay in use

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