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

Fatal car crash reported on Highway 92 near Lake Stevens

The 3 p.m. accident and investigation stopped traffic in both directions near Machias Road.

Departing mayor’s locally drawn portrait joins city’s pantheon

Artist Elizabeth Person’s portrait of Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson will hang with others at City Hall.

Mayor tries new tactic to curb fire department overtime

Stephanson says an engine won’t go into service when the only available staff would be on overtime.

Cheering families welcome Kidd, Shoup after 6 months at sea

“I get back Daddy back today,” said one homemade sign at Naval Station Everett.

Paine Field fire chief will be allowed to retire

In his letter, the airport director noted Jeff Bohnet was leaving while under investigation.

Stanwood man, 33, killed in crash near Marysville

Speed may have been a factor, the sheriff’s department said.

County plans to sue to recoup costs from ballot drop-box law

A quarter-million dollars could be spent adding 19 ballot boxes in rural areas.

For modern women, 98-year-old rejection letters still sting

In a stark new video, female Boeing engineers break the silence about past inopportunity.

February trial set for suspect in deadly Marysville shooting

There had been questions about Wayne Alpert’s mental health.

Most Read