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Habitable Planet Reality Check: Kepler’s K2-155d

23 Mar 2018, 13:44 UTC
Habitable Planet Reality Check: Kepler’s K2-155d ESA/ATG medialab

Without a doubt, NASA’s Kepler mission has been the most prolific discoverer of extrasolar planets to date. It has done this by looking for periodic dips in the brightness of hundreds of thousands of stars caused by the transits of orbiting exoplanets. Even after its primary mission ended in May 2013 when the failure of a second reaction wheel after four years in space prevented Kepler from pointing at its target area straddling the border of the constellations Lyra and Cygnus, project engineers and scientists were able to formulate an alternate extended mission to continue hunting for exoplanets. Since the start of this extended mission called “K2” in March 2014, the spacecraft has been observing a sequence of star fields along the ecliptic for stretches of about 80 days at a time before moving on to the next star field. This observation strategy was possible using the remaining pair of reaction wheels by balancing the slight pressure of sunlight reflecting off of the spacecraft to maintain an accurate fix during the observation runs (see “The First Year of Kepler’s K2 Mission”).

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