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

These little piggies stay home

Norman, who was spotted last week in Everett, is part of a trio kept as pets by the “pig whisperer.”

Leanne Smiciklas, the friendly lady who served customers of her husband’s Old School Barbeque from a schoolbus parked in front of the Reptile Zoo east of Monroe, has died at 64. (Dan Bates / Herald file)
Without her, beloved BBQ hotspot in Monroe can’t go on

Leanne Smiciklas, who ran the now-closed Old School BBQ along Highway 2 with her husband, died.

Woman, 47, found dead in Marysville jail cell

She’d been in custody about four days after being arrested on warrants, police said.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Mill Creek’s Donna Michelson ready to retire at year’s end

The city’s longest-serving council member says she has every intention of staying involved.

Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital accepting adolescent patients

The facility is the first mental heallth unit in the county to offer in-patient services for children.

Within an hour, 2 planes crash-land at Paine Field

One simply landed hard and went off the end of a runway. Another crash involved unextended landing gear.

Ian Terry / The Herald Westbound cars merge from Highway 204 and 20th Street Southeast onto the trestle during the morning commute on Thursday, March 30 in Lake Stevens. Photo taken on 03302017
Pay a toll on US 2 trestle? 10,000 say no on social media

A GOP lawmaker’s chart shows theoretical toll rates of up to $6.30 to cross the trestle one way.

Teen murder suspect captured — then escapes and is recaptured

The 16-year-old is one of at least three young suspects in the shooting death of an Everett woman.

Most Read