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CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — NASA’s researchers didn’t give up on the planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft when its stabilizing reaction wheel failed.
Now Kepler is back in the game with the recent discovery of an exoplanet located about 180 light years from Earth, according to NASA. This is the first planet identified using data from the spacecraft since it was repurposed for the K2 mission.
“Rather than giving up on the stalwart spacecraft, a team of scientists and engineers crafted a resourceful strategy to use pressure from sunlight as a ‘virtual reaction wheel’ to help control the spacecraft,” a statement from NASA reads. “The resulting K2 mission promises to not only continue Kepler’s planet hunt, but also to expand the search to bright nearby stars that harbor planets that can be studied in detail and better understand their composition.”
A graduate student at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics discovered HIP116454b, the newly confirmed exoplanet, using public data gathered by Kepler in February. It takes nine days for it to orbit around a star that is cooler than the Earth’s sun, meaning the planet is “too hot for life as we know it,” according to NASA.
Researchers reported HIP116454b is about 2.5 times the diameter of Earth.
While this is the first confirmed planet since Kepler’s rebirth in May, the spacecraft has been busy gathering plenty of other data. So far it has observed more than 35,000 stars and star clusters, in addition to planetary objects within the Earth’s solar system, according to NASA.