Home > astronomy, space exploration > NASA’s K2 finds exoplanet

NASA’s K2 finds exoplanet

This artist's conception shows the Kepler Space Telescope in orbit. Courtesy NASA, drawing by Wendy Stenzel.

This artist’s conception shows the Kepler Space Telescope in orbit. Courtesy NASA, drawing by Wendy Stenzel.

The Kepler Space Telescope, restored to functionality after suffering damage to stabilizing wheels, has discovered an exoplanet.

The planet is 2.5 times the size of Earth and is about 180 light years away. It has a mass about 12 times that of Earth.

Andrew Vanderburg, a graduate student researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and his colleagues noticed data that indicated the existence of the exoplanet when they examined the results of a February test to determine whether the Kepler Space Telescope could be restored to service.

The researchers confirmed the detection of HIP 116454b by using a spectrograph on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo.

Transits of HIP 116454b were also confirmed by the Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) satellite.

“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries,” Vanderburg said. “Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies.”

The Kepler Space Telescope uses a camera to detect the dimming of a star when a planet passes in front of it.

After two of the telescope’s four reaction wheels failed, the telescope was unable to maintain a focus on distant stars. Engineers devised a method of using pressure from photons emitted by the sun to balance the spacecraft.

NASA said in May that the renewed Kepler mission, dubbed K2, would continue for two years.

The Kepler Space Telescope has discovered 996 confirmed exoplanets, according to the mission website maintained by NASA.

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