In very encouraging news, the Kepler planet-hunting telescope seems to be relishing its new setup – so much so that it has spotted its first exoplanetary system with more than one planet. This comes hot on the heels of the news before Christmas that the mission – dubbed K2 – had found its first exoplanet in its new guise.
All this is great news considering it was thought at one stage that the telescope was broken beyond repair. Its original setup required three working “reaction wheels” to allow it to accurately point at stars and look for changes in their light as a planet passed in front of them. When a second wheel malfunctioned after the spare had already stopped working we feared the worst.
However, an ingenious idea led to the telescope hunting again. Radiation pressure from the Sun is being used as a makeshift third wheel. That has resulted in Kepler shifting its gaze from the area around the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra to peering along the ecliptic – the line that threads its way through the twelve constellations of the zodiac. That explains why this latest haul of three planets has been spotted in the constellation of Leo.
The star in question is called EPIC 2011367065 and the planets encircling it are all a little larger than Earth. One even sits on the outer edge of the star’s habitable zone – the snug region where mild temperatures may permit the existence of liquid water.
With Kepler seemingly back on its feet, let the exciting exoplanet news continue!