Kepler’s resurrected!

Kepler spacecraft

Artist’s conception of the Kepler spacecraft [Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech]

The space observatory
, that is, not the late great astronomer.

NASA is breathing new life into the currently defunct Kepler spacecraft, which was designed to look for Earth-size exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) in the Milky Way. Partway through its mission, the Kepler spacecraft lost function in two of the four flywheels it uses to orient itself, and, without the ability to steadily point in a given direction, it became effectively dead.

However, NASA scientists have figured out how to use the pressure from the solar wind to stably orient the spacecraft, and it will hopefully resume its mission of searching out the Milky Way for Earth-size planets. The use of the solar wind to stabilize Kepler will limit where the spacecraft can point itself, but it will still be able to collect a lot of meaningful data.