The future of NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space observatory was in question Wednesday after a part that helps aim the spacecraft failed, the U.S. space agency said
The Kepler observatory is "specifically designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover dozens of Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets". A photometer continually monitors the brightness of over 145,000 main sequence stars in a fixed field of view. This data is transmitted to Earth, then analyzed to detect periodic dimming caused by extrasolar planets that cross in front of their host star.
NASA has selected a $200 million mission to carry out a full-sky survey for exoplanets orbiting nearby stars. The space observatory, called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is scheduled for a 2017 launch. Like the currently operational Kepler Space Telescope, TESS will be in the lookout for exoplanets that orbit in front of their host stars, resulting in a slight dip in starlight. This dip is known as a “transit” and Kepler has revolutionized our understanding about planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy by applying this effective technique. As of January 2013, Kepler has spotted 2,740 exoplanetary candidates.
These planets are unlike anything in our solar system. They have endless oceans," said lead author Lisa Kaltenegger of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the CfA. "There may be life there, but could it be technology-based like ours? Life on these worlds would be under water with no easy access to metals, to electricity, or fire for metallurgy. Nonetheless, these worlds will still be beautiful blue planets circling an orange star -- and maybe life's inventiveness to get
Scientists announced Thursday the discovery of three planets that are some of the best candidates so far for habitable worlds outside our own solar system -- and they're very far away.
NASA's Kepler satellite, which is keeping an eye on more than 150,000 stars in hopes of identifying Earth-like planets, found the trio.
Two of the planets -- Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f -- are described in a study released Thursday in the journal, Science. They are part of a five-planet system in which the candidates for life are the farthest from the host star.
The host star -- the equivalent of Earth's sun -- takes the name Kepler-62, where the individual planets are designated by letters thereafter.