According to NASA’s JPL ( Jet Propulsion Laboratory ), the Kepler Space Telescope has discovered the first exoplanet of its mission. The planet discovered, named HIP 116454b, is located about 180 light years away from Earth.
The newly discovered planet is orbiting a small star in the Pisces constellation and it’s almost 2.5 times larger than Earth and it is so close to its star that it makes one full rotation around it in just 9 days. Because of this reason the planet is not inhabitable for any life form that experts know of but the discovery has shown that the Kepler Space Telescope, even if it suffered mechanical problems, can still continue its mission.
The Kepler Space Telescope was launched in 2009 and its mission was to search planets outside our solar system that were orbiting bright stars. Kepler continuously watched over 150.000 stars from the Cygnus constellation. The objective of Kepler’s mission was to discover planets orbiting bright stars outside our system and according to the data gathered by the telescope in the first three years of its mission, it found almost 1.000 such planets.
Kepler Space Telescope was equipped with small flywheels that enabled it to keep its instruments and mirror steady as photons from the Sun applied small amounts of radiation pressure over it that would blur its view and ruin its observation.
In 2012, Kepler has malfunctioned as one of these flywheels has failed leaving it with only three functional reaction wheels. According to experts at NASA, Kepler could continue its mission with only three flywheels but the mission was put at risk when another reaction wheel began to show technical issues and failed a year later. Except the fact that two flywheels of the telescope have failed, other instruments were functional but the loss of those functions would end the capability of the telescope to search for exoplanets outside our solar system.
To make sure that Kepler still continues its mission, a team of experts at NASA came up with a bright and intelligent plan to keep the telescope steady while it scouts exoplanets. They used the telescope’s solar panels to balance the pressure from solar photons instead of using its reaction wheels to confront that pressure.
Kepler Space Telescope’s mission now will allow it to observe a particular constellation for 83 days and then turn its attention to another constellation for 83 days, and so on. The team at NASA will have to carefully monitor the radiation pressure from the Sun’s photons and to keep it balanced.
Image Source: Universe Today