NASAs planet hunter safe again for now

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Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe NASA has regained control of its exoplanet discovery satellite Kepler following a fraught few days during which the spacecraft had put itself into a protective “emergency mode.” What went wrong is not yet clear, but on Sunday morning controllers had the spacecraft in a stable state with its communications antenna pointing toward Earth. Data from the spacecraft are being downloaded and analyzed to find out the cause of the problem.Kepler had finished its last observing campaign on 23 March and was in a “rest” state waiting for the next one, which was due to begin last week. The emergency mode began some 14 hours before the observations were due to begin. This is the first time Kepler has had to resort to emergency mode in its 7 years in space. Investigations into the event will continue throughout this week, NASA says. NASA launched Kepler in 2009 to search out roughly Earth-sized planets around sunlike stars. It does this by staring at a few select parts of the sky and monitoring the brightness of 150,000 target stars over long periods. If any of those stars dimmed slightly for a while and then brightened again that could be a sign that an orbiting planet has passed in front of it. This “transit method” proved hugely successful: In more than 4 years of operation it detected 4696 candidate exoplanets, of which 1041 have been confirmed by other detection methods or statistical techniques.center_img Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Already beyond its designed mission, NASA had planned to operate Kepler for another few years, but that was put in doubt in 2012 when one of its four reaction wheels—devices necessary for pointing the spacecraft accurately—failed. Kepler could keep working with three reaction wheels but when a second failed in May 2013 the mission seemed all but lost. However, mission engineers worked out a way to steer the spacecraft—not as well as before, but good enough—using a combination of its thrusters, the surviving reaction wheels, and the pressure of sunlight on its solar panels. Dubbed K2, the new mission was opened to suggestions from astronomers and since June 2014 has been counting certain exoplanet-star combinations, studying stellar structure and activity, looking for the progenitors of supernovae, and discovering binary stars, among other things.Mission controllers discovered that Kepler was in trouble again last week. During a recent check in with the spacecraft on 7 April they found that it had put itself into emergency mode, its lowest-activity operational state. It had gone into emergency mode 36 hours earlier, just before Kepler was about to begin a campaign to detect exoplanets by gravitational microlensing. Prior to that, the spacecraft had been in good health. To complicate matters, Kepler is 120 million kilometers from Earth, so messages take 13 minutes to travel to the spacecraft and back. “It was the quick response and determination of the engineers throughout the weekend that led to the recovery,” Kepler mission manager Charlie Sobeck said in a statement.Earth-based observatories that are collaborating with Kepler in the microlensing campaign will continue observing this week while the spacecraft has its health check. The required observing window onto the center of the Milky Way remains open until 1 July.It is “a huge relief that the K2 mission will continue,” says astronomer Sara Seager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Already K2 has yielded 2 dozen exoplanets with more than 250 awaiting confirmation.”last_img

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