The past few days have been filled with anxiety for NASA scientists. First, an ammonia leak threatened the long-term stability of the International Space Station, and now the team behind the Kepler mission has reported that the space telescope might have been dealt a fatal blow after inexplicably entering safe mode at the beginning of the month.
The Kepler telescope launched in 2009 to begin the search for exoplanets similar to Earth that might be able to support life. The telescope can monitor 100,000 stars at once, all while collecting data from the planets that orbit those stars.
In an update published Wednesday to NASA's page for the Kepler mission, the team reported "that there has been an internal failure within the reaction wheel, likely a structural failure of the wheel bearing."
Kepler will remain active for now, though it will transition to "Point Rest State" which "minimizes fuels usage" and should allow Kepler to continue its search for years to come. Of course, that depends on whether or not another reaction wheel goes offline, in which case the accuracy of the telescope will be severely diminished.
If there's any good news, it's that everything Kepler has observed since November 2012 is supplementary--the mission was originally meant to end last year, but NASA decided to keep Kepler in orbit to gather more data. Fingers crossed it doesn't fall out of the sky any time soon.
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