The Kepler mission is making amazing new discoveries.
NASA’s planet hunting Kepler spacecraft has just made another big splash: it has found more than 100 new alien worlds.
Kepler had been struggling with a mechanical malfunction recently but NASA was able to get it back into working order, and it is already hard at work hunting for new planets beyond our solar system, according to a National Geographic report.
The mission, dubbed K2, takes a look at multi-planet systems near stars that have much higher luminosity than other planets Kepler had previously observed. In one system, they found three planets that were bigger than Earth, found a planet in the nearest open star cluster to Earth, and also observed a planet getting ripped to pieces by a nearby white dwarf star, according to the report.
And Kepler is just getting started. There are an additional 234 possible planets that are awaiting confirmation, so that 100-planet figure could go way up pretty soon
K2 is different from the original Kepler mission in that it is focused on stars that are closer to Earth and thus easier to observe.
For the original mission, Kepler stared deeply into space at the same patch of sky between 2009 and 2013. It would watch for periodic dimming in stars, indicating that a planet was passing in front of it. The goal of Kepler is to find out just how prevalent Earth-like planets are elsewhere in our galaxy, and the rest of the universe. So far, Kepler has discovered more than 1,000 new planets in the process.
A malfunction in 2013 caused Kepler to have to stop staring at that patch in the sky, resulting in NASA making fixes to its steering mechanism.
K2 will also involve looking for supernoas and studying planets within our own solar system. Back in 2014, it watched Neptune for 70 days to study the weather on the planet. Kepler is currently staring at Uranus to gain similar insights.