back to article NASA: Earth II may be hiding in unexamined data from injured Kepler

NASA has revealed that the Kepler spacecraft, which has been busily hunting for exoplanets for over four years, is no longer capable of carrying out its primary mission – but there's plenty of life left in the ol' girl yet, and plenty of planet-hunting data left to be analyzed. "What we're saying is done today is our precision- …

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Rarely is a third wheel desirable...

Not the case here though.

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It might have found Earth II.

It needed a minimum of three complete orbits to detect a planet, and it operated for just over three years, so a planet with the same orbital period as Earth MIGHT be detectable in the collected data.

(It's this requirement which is the reason it mostly detected planets orbiting very close to their star, ie had very short orbital periods)

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Trollface

"American parts; russian parts - all made in Taiwan."

Before exploring the galaxy one step at a time... one should maybe start by not getting the gyroscopes from the company "recommended" by Senator XY.

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Re: "American parts; russian parts - all made in Taiwan."

Then how would you get the proposal through congress?

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Might be an idea for future missions to include some "plan B" science options in planning?

Nothing too detailed just what you could use if for it the error bars on instrument X get too large.

Kepler has produced amazing results. Not just the worlds themselves but the statistics of how common they are. Kepler has looked at a lot of stars. Before this that number was somewhere between almost 0 (our Sun has them but no one else in the galaxy does) to 1 (every other sun has at least one).

Something tells me that because of Keplers high precision requirements there are surveys it can do ever with it's reduced mode.

Exciting time.

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Re: Might be an idea for future missions to include some "plan B" science options in planning?

I quite fancy visiting a place where the bar is actually bigger than the planet!

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Re: Might be an idea for future missions to include some "plan B" science options in planning?

Have to agree with Tom. There is a bar size gap in the planetary design market, someone needs to fill it.

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Anonymous Coward

We need better reaction wheels.

I seem to remember Hubble having problems with broken reaction wheels and I'm sure there are other missions ended by broken wheels. Some may have been at the end of the planned mission anyway, but extending an existing mission is a hell of a lot cheaper than putting more hardware up there. If there's still science to do, it would be nice to be able to do it.

Kepler spent 4 years staring at the same bit of sky - as it was intended to do all along. But if it hadn't broken, surely another bit of sky could have been looked at in the next 4 years. I'd estimate the total mission cost for that at about 100 million dollars. That's 18/year plus 28 million for the paperwork. Compared with 550 million for the mission so far, that's got to be good value.

So, I'd like to see some of NASAs money spent on researching better reaction wheels.

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Boffin

Re: We need better reaction wheels.

Actually that's a pretty good point. Reaction wheels are very common for anyone building a space object that has precision pointing needs and are a frequent failure mode.

They are spun up and spun down repeatedly which creates a constantly changing environment for the hardware. Not something that's good for long life mechanical equipment, especially in space.

An interesting variant of these are "Control Moment Gyros," where the wheel spins at constant speed but can be tipped in either 1 or 2 axes. The tipping mechanism can be quite low power (much lower than that needed to spin up the wheel). I think the down side is that without enough of them the satellite can get into an attitude the wheels cannot get it out of (referred to as a "singularity" in the mathematical, not black hole sense). They should be much more reliable.

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Anonymous Coward

Two wheels on my wagon

and I'm still rollin' along...

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Coat

Re: Two wheels on my wagon

Can't believe they didn't pack a space-saver wheel.

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Yeah if theres a planet sized bar and plan b is doing a gig im in.

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Meh

Earth II

I just can't see humans, the way we know them now Jim, ever leaving Earth further than say a jaunt to Mars, possibly. Sure we have made a trip equivalent to the front door step (Moon and back) but we are suitably adapted to this planet and any Earth II candidate is simply too far distant for our little legs to carry us.

I can imagine that machines we build could travel those distances and, perhaps, take with them the genetic material required to then reconstruct humans on a habitable planet, but that's about it. That would be more of a delivery system for genetic / bio-chemical material - but somewhat more sophisticated than the chance happening that kicked off life here on Earth I. In fact, given that scenario, I just can't see humans, the way we know them now Jim, being around at all when the machines embark on such a voyage. By that time the remaining, dominant, humans will be hardly visible deep inside their techno-exo-skeletal-mecha-whatsits.

That's not to discount the tremendous efforts born out of human curiosity to learn more about our home planet, it's near neighbors and it's, somewhat, precarious situation as a, relatively, big floating ball of hot iron and stone crust. Just saying.

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Go

Re: Earth II

Used to be people couldn't see using cars instead of horses. They were just too many challenges.

Used to be people couldn't see using electricity in every home. Just too many challenges.

Used to be people couldn't see flying around in airplanes. There were just too many challenges.

Used to be people couldn't see having moving picture shows at home. There were just too many challenges.

Used to be people couldn't imagine speaking in real time to someone across the Atlantic. Too many challenges.

Used to be people couldn't see having computers in every home, or a global information network, or mobile phones or the ability to make cocks 8===> appear on screens all over the world and even on the surface of Mars.

For every challenge there is a solution, it may not be what's expected, but a solution exists. I don't have the answers, and neither does anyone else, yet, but the solution(s) will be found. Found by someone who didn't quit because of naysayers or silly things like science as it was/is understood. Those people do come along and we all ride on the backs of their ideas.

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whats it doing now

this reads like the thing is doing nothing whilst we work out what to do with it,

is that really whats happening ?

all that gear just sitting in space, waiting,

please tell me I'm wrong.

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Happy

Re: whats it doing now

You're wrong!

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Three wheels

To judge from the picture it does look vaguely like a space-going Reliant Robin.

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Mushroom

Re: Three wheels

In that case they are lucky to have got it as far up as they did! Last time I saw footage of a Reliant Robin being launched it didn't end up quite as reliant as intended. Skip to 8:07 for the launch.

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Childcatcher

Calling Roadside Assistance

I could not find where a repair mission was considered, even if to explain why it was too expensive. The Hubble Space Telescope required repairs to be made after it had been deployed. Why not do something similar for the Kepler scope? Call it a scheduled 10^7 mile tuneup.

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Re: Calling Roadside Assistance

You're assuming that replacing one of those 'wheels' (by the way, what's wrong with the word 'gyroscopes'? Do they fear confusing the public? ) is doable -i.e. you don't have to dismantle most of the device to reach them- and that Kepler can be correctly recalibrated after such a fix. Given the weight and size constraints those projects are under, I wouldn't take any of these two premises for granted.

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Alien

Re: Calling Roadside Assistance

The Hubble telescope was serviced from the Space shuttle, I believe the orbit was more or less at the limit of what the shuttle could cope with. The Space shuttle is no longer flying so we couldn't even service the Hubble telescope now.

The Kepler telescope is not in an earth orbit, it trails along in a solar orbit following the earth at a slowly increasing distance.

Even if the shuttle was flying now it would have had no hope of getting there and back.

We just don't have the technology to do it.

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Re: Calling Roadside Assistance

Yep, no Shuttle and the distance to the device make fixing it technologically and financially impossible.

There was also a lot of politics going on around Hubble with a lot of people embarrassed and going to be more embarrassed if it wasn't fixed. Their support for the fix turned them into 'heros'.

The current Congress, being comprised of 75% of members who hate science and the rest too impotent to push any agenda means Keppler will never get any more support.

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Re: Calling Roadside Assistance

Yep, no Shuttle and the distance to the device make fixing it technologically and financially impossible.

There was also a lot of politics going on around Hubble with a lot of people embarrassed and going to be more embarrassed if it wasn't fixed. Their support for the fix turned them into 'heros'.

The current Congress, being comprised of 75% of members who hate science and the rest too impotent to push any agenda means Kepler will never get any help.

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Re: Calling Roadside Assistance

Strange that my comment was repeated 5mins after the original post was posted...

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Happy

Re: Calling Roadside Assistance

Well, at least you now have some redundancy should one of your comments cease to function.

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Happy

Now if one of those "Earth II" planets was within a human lifetime at say 0.1c

That would definitely raise some interest.

Whatever happened to the speculation about Barnard's Star?

There was a reason the BIS chose it for the target world for their Daedalus probe.

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Childcatcher

Re: Now if one of those "Earth II" planets was within a human lifetime at say 0.1c

Whatever happened to the speculation about Barnard's Star?

Alas, Barnard's seems to lack planets. Good point, though. As soon as a planet or set of planets is discovered that reasonably can be argued will support life, the dynamic of the conversation will change.

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Re: Now if one of those "Earth II" planets was within a human lifetime at say 0.1c

>Now if one of those "Earth II" planets was within a human lifetime at say 0.1c

Alas, the length of a 'human lifetime' may well be shortened by the journey beyond the protection of the Earth's magnetosphere. I suppose future technology might allow us to shield the occupants of spacecraft with energy fields, or repair their DNA on the fly...

['Songs of Distant Earth' by Arthur C Clarke]

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Alert

Re: Now if one of those "Earth II" planets was within a human lifetime at say 0.1c

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"our twin would provide four transits in four years"

Or as little as three years and a day, if you get lucky with the timing of the first transit.

I'm going to assume that the boffins knew that already, as they are most likely much too clever to make a simple fencepost error.

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