Kepler Exoplanet : Telescope Kicks of Second-Life K2 Mission By Spotting Another ‘Super-Earth’

Updated: December 21, 2014
Kepler Exoplanet : Telescope Kicks of Second-Life K2 Mission By Spotting Another 'Super-Earth'

NASA’s Kepler Telescope rallied from a crippling malfunction more than a year ago to spot a new alien exoplanet for the first time since.

Astronomers and engineers worked day and night to devise an ingenious way to re-purpose the spacecraft, that was written off after the failure of its reaction wheels cut its mission short last year.

Now the space telescope is as good as gold and has resumed its search of the cosmos for other worlds as well as expanding its search to bright nearby stars that harbour planets.

The new planet HIP 116454b Kepler has just discovered, was found 180 light-years from Earth towards the Pisces constellation and is 2.5 times the diameter of our planet.

It follows a close, nine-day orbit around a star that is smaller and cooler than our sun, making the planet way too hot for life as we know it.

Smaller planets that orbit nearby bright stars like HIP 116454b, are scientific sweet spots for K2 as they’re gold mines in following up ground studies to obtains mass measurements, calculating the density of a planet to determine whether it’s likely to be a rocky, watery or gaseous world.

“The Kepler mission showed us that planets larger in size than Earth and smaller than Neptune are common in the galaxy, yet they are absent in our solar system,” said Steve Howell, Kepler/K2 project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

“K2 is uniquely positioned to dramatically refine our understanding of these alien worlds and further define the boundary between rocky worlds like Earth and ice giants like Neptune.”