NASA’s planet-hunting telescope broken

LOS ANGELES — NASA’s planet-hunting telescope is broken.

The Kepler spacecraft lost the second of four wheels that control the telescope’s orientation in space, NASA said Wednesday.

If engineers can’t find a fix, the failure means Kepler won’t be able to look for exoplanets — planets outside our solar system anymore.

“I wouldn’t call Kepler down-and-out just yet,” said NASA sciences chief John Grunsfeld.

Kepler was launched in 2009 in search of Earth-like planets. So far, it has confirmed 132 planets and spotted more than 2,700 potential ones.

While ground telescopes can hunt for exoplanets, Kepler is much more advanced.

Deputy project manager Charles Sobeck said there’s a backlog of data that scientists still need to analyze even if Kepler’s planet-hunting days may be numbered. For the past four years, Kepler has focused its telescope on a patch of the Milky Way hosting more than 150,000 stars, recording slight dips in brightness — a sign of a planet passing in front of the star.

Now “We can’t point where we need to point. We can’t gather data,” Sobeck told The Associated Press.

Last month, astronomers announced Kepler’s discovery of two distant worlds that are the best candidates for habitable planets.

The $600 million mission is managed by the NASA Ames Research Center in Northern California.

Online:

Kepler: http://kepler.nasa.gov

More in Local News

A wobbly calf grows into a 1,800-pound Lake Stevens behemoth

A shaggy and sometimes cranky bison is the last of his herd. He lives amid encroaching suburbia.

Elderly couple escape serious injuries in crash with train

The driver drove down tracks instead of a road, hitting a slow-moving train near Stanwood.

Officials ID man shot and killed in apparent Everett robbery

Police believe the victim may have known the shooter, who drove away before the officers arrived.

Man, 60, in critical condition after Bothell crash

Police believe the driver may have been speeding when he hit a rock wall.

Missing Marysville woman found safe out of state

A Marysville senior who was reported missing in March has… Continue reading

FBI operation arrests 3 linked to exploitation of 32 women

The sting focused on Everett and other cities in Snohomish, King, Pierce, Skagit and Spokane counties.

Front Porch

EVENTS Seahawks event postponed A Toys for Tots Blue Friday fundraiser that… Continue reading

Volunteers clean up homeless camp infested with garbage

The organization’s founder used to live and do drugs in the same woods.

Fire crew returns early from wildfires in Northern California

Four Everett firefighters returned from battling California wildfires late Thursday… Continue reading

Most Read