back to article NASA: Our ALIEN HUNTING star-scan 'scope is KNACKERED

In a press conference on Wednesday, NASA warned that its Kepler orbital telescope, which has had much success in spotting Earth-sized planets, may be on its last legs after a serious equipment failure. The telescope relies on four spinning reaction wheels to keep it aligned on target, and one failed last year. Now another has …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Dick Emery
    Alien

    The aliens did it!

    Obviously they don't like prying eyes on their homeworld(s).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Shouldn't

      Shouldn't have outsourced the wheelie thing to the Chinese......

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So

      This thing discovers planets so far away we will never be able to get there

      This thing discovers planets that might be habitable.

      The point of the exercise is what? What do we benefit from this?

      By the time the human race gets the technology to go there we will have been destroyed by a zombie virus/death virus/bird flu/nuclear Armageddon/the sun going super nova/old age etc etc etc etc.

      Pointless exercise.

      1. Yag

        Re: So

        Heck... According to your analysis, why bother doing anything at all?

        Why don't we all just lie down and die, it'll be quicker than waiting for the entropic death of the universe...

        (No depression icon...)

      2. Blofeld's Cat
        Facepalm

        Re: So

        "Pointless exercise"

        I'm sure somebody said that to Marco Polo, Alan Turing and Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

        Please remember that if Christopher Columbus hadn't "discovered" America, we wouldn't have had anywhere to send the "B" Ark Mayflower and her passengers.

        1. Steve Knox
          Boffin

          Re: So

          Whilst I agree with your sentiment, and find your "B" Ark analogy rather apt, be careful how you use it...

          Remember what happened to the Golgafrinchans.

      3. Steve Knox
        Holmes

        Re: So

        This thing discovers planets so far away we will never be able to get there

        This is simply untrue. Even with current technology, we could reach those planets if we had the will.

        This thing discovers planets that might be habitable.

        More precisely, this "thing" looks for planets (period) and tries to measure them in as many ways as possible. More on this in a bit.

        By the time the human race gets the technology to go there we will have been destroyed by a zombie virus/death virus/bird flu/nuclear Armageddon/the sun going super nova/old age etc etc etc etc.

        At this point you are clearly presuming that the sole benefit to consider is migration. However, that is simply not the case.

        Before 1988, our entire dataset for the study of planetary formation, interaction, ecosystems, etc. consisted of somewhere between 8 and 100 entities (depending on exactly what you count) all of which had little in common apart from the system to which they belonged. As far as studying earth-like planets, we had exactly one data point.

        We had no idea if the rules and models we had developed for all sorts of planetary properties were simply conveniently correlative to our own situation or consistently accurate on a more universal scale.

        Now, Kepler has not given us the resolution necessary to test all of that, but it has exceeded its design goals in advancing us along that path. We have learned a great deal about what is special about our planet and what is more common than we had thought.

        Pointless exercise.

        Yes, I am afraid that my attempt to explain to you why learning about our existence can in itself be a very fruitful exercise will fall on deaf ears, given your attitude, but if we don't try, the only guarantee is failure.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So

          In the long run, we are all dead. Thus the exertions of man are ultimately futile

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
            Flame

            Re: So

            > In the long run, we are all dead.

            Get off my lawn with your Keynes quotations!

        2. Yag

          Re: So

          "We had no idea if the rules and models we had developed for all sorts of planetary properties were simply conveniently correlative to our own situation or consistently accurate on a more universal scale."

          I still remember the old "Gas giants are always in the outer reaches of planetary systems because all the light elements are drained by the star" dogma...

      4. dwieske

        Re: So

        don't confuse your incapacity to understand something with it being pointless...

  2. Martin Budden
    Unhappy

    Oh no!

    This is bad news indeed. I have loved hearing about so many planet discoveries from Kepler, and I've been looking forward to an ever-growing list of "goldilocks" planets.

    We can't even ask Sir Hadfield to nip over and fix it, the orbit is... what is the word... unsuitable.

    1. Hungry Sean
      Unhappy

      Re: Oh no!

      My sentiments exactly. Not long ago there were no known exoplanets, then a small handful, and over the past few years, we started getting news of potentially habitable planets every few months. With NASA's budget being brutally slashed, the odds of a replacement anytime soon seem grim. Maybe China or the ESA will step up?

      1. Annihilator
        Boffin

        Re: Oh no!

        "With NASA's budget being brutally slashed, the odds of a replacement anytime soon seem grim. Maybe China or the ESA will step up?"

        NASA and ESA are already stepping up for a replacement. ESA is build Cheops (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite), to be launched in 2017. NASA is building Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess), also to be launched in 2017.

        Only 4 years away, and from what I understand it will take that to finish with all the Kepler data (the "discoveries" aren't anywhere near real-time). Kepler has been on borrowed time for a while now and we were in bonus land! :-)

        Sad to see it go, but it's outdone itself in terms of operation. Plus these are the guys that have managed to eke out life on the Spirit & Opportunity and got Voyager to the edge of the solar system. I'm not counting Kepler out of commision just yet!

    2. Winkypop Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Oh no!

      I love getting regular updates via the "exoplanet" iPhone app:

      1. PC Paul
        Devil

        Re: Oh no!

        > I love getting regular updates via the "exoplanet" iPhone app:

        Well, if it just started sending out fake updates every so often, would it really make any _practical_ difference?

        Nobody who is alive now or for the foreseeable future has any chance of ever getting there, and the only proof we have that these planets even exist is readings from Kepler.

  3. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Alien

    I hope they can save the scope!

    But honestly, I think that robotic missions to Mars/Europa/Enceladus would be more important. That and developing a cheap way to get into orbit. If we can do that, then we can have 2-3 successors to Kepler up there, rather than hope to run the original well past it's expected lifespan.

    1. Ru
      Mushroom

      Re: I hope they can save the scope!

      Bring back Project Prometheus, I say.

  4. PT
    Unhappy

    That's ok, we can just send up a shuttle with spare parts and fix it. Oh, wait a minute ...

    1. Peter Mount
      Boffin

      Never an option

      Even if we still had the shuttle that wouldn't be an option.

      Kepler is in a Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit - as such it's not even in orbit around this lump of rock. It's orbit around the sun is slightly longer than the earths so that it slowly falls away from earth as time goes on.

      The shuttle never left low earth orbit - in fact it couldn't go any higher than it did. IIRC the highest it got was the Hubble maintenance missions.

  5. Charles 9 Silver badge
    Happy

    Give the space engineers of the world credit. Their track record concerning exoplanetary equipment has recently been quite impressive. Remember, we're talking a telescope that is a year past its working life. You have several rovers on Mars still trundling years past the "mission accomplished" state, and European scientists just recently bid adieu to its cryonic space telescope after it managed to hang on for a few extra months. That's what I call bang for the buck.

    1. Pet Peeve
      Pint

      Yeah, when you consistently greatly outlast your design life, it's not a failure when the spacecraft finally cashes in.

      That said, Kepler 2, RIGHT NOW.

  6. M7S
    Alien

    "A communications blackout can only mean one thing...."

    They're just being a little more subtle.

    They're trying to make the ISS uninhabitable by sabotaging that ammonia pipe. Then there are all those solar flares

    Accidents? Co-incidence? Has anyone heard from Hans Zarkov recently?

    1. Annihilator
      Headmaster

      Re: "A communications blackout can only mean one thing...."

      You mean "disruption"?

      Sorry ;-)

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Pint

    Sounds like at least on eof the situations Hubble found itself in.

    I'm guessing they have the procedures used then to compensate for uncommanded motion. However I'm not sure if the level of precision that will get them will allow them to continue planet hunting.

    IIRC Kepler had bumped up the list of definite extra solar planets into the 100s and the possibles into the 1000s, some even relatively close to Earth, Earth sized(ish) and in the goldilocks zone (Although IIRC someone pointed out that Earth is not in the zone, except for the global warming produced by trace CO2).

    I think the time is coming when they will have to retire it. It's delivered solid results, told NASA a lot about what their next planet finder should look like. It might have been a single function spacecraft but what a function.

    I salute you.

  8. johnck

    Honest Queston

    If it can’t do anything useful anymore will it be deorbited, or do the rules on deorbiting broken/obsolete satellites only apply to others?

    Don’t say it’s too far out (I don’t know how far out it is) or not causing any problems where it is, as that only applies right now why knows what will happen in the future, bit like the current space junk that didn’t need deorbiting in the past as it want causing any problems

    1. David Given

      Re: Honest Queston

      It's too far out.

      It's not actually in orbit round the Earth; it circles the sun, in an orbit which trail's Earth but which diverges over time. Their website says that it's about half an AU away by now. As such there's absolutely bugger all to hit out there, so debris is not a problem.

      In order to deorbit it, you'd have to do an interplanetary transfer to find something to deorbit into --- probably Earth. But the process would take years and the amount of on-board thruster fuel is very limited.

      What they'll probably do with it is leave it in safe mode and not use the thrusters. With luck it should remain alive but idle for many years to come. That way they retain the thruster fuel if, for some reason, it becomes necessary to adjust its orbit later.

    2. Hopalong
      Unhappy

      Re: Honest Queston

      It is not in Earth orbit, it is in solar orbit, so it can not be de-orbited.

      What will happen is that once all the remaining fuel has been used to keep alinement, it will be commanded to shutdown its transmitter and go into a safe mode.

      Once the fuel is gone, as it is not spin stablised, it will start to tumble and will lose power as its solar arrays will nolonger be pointing at the sun.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. amck

    Why do it?

    Even if we never get beyond the solar system:

    (1) Kepler has provided a lot of info as to not just the existence of planets, but how they form. When you've one solar system to study, you can come up with all sorts of theories. When you've got to explain a thousand planetary systems, you winnow out a lot of the wrong ideas.

    This in turn helps explain a lot about our solar system: e.g. Whats inside Neptune and Uranus? the makeup of a lot of planetary moons and Kuiper belt objects, etc. which may harbour life.

    (1) Is there life? if not, why not? Is something killing off life before it spreads?

    Not exactly a purely philosophical question. Are Gamma-Ray bursts sterilizing the galaxy?

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: Why do it?

      "Whats inside Neptune and Uranus?"

      Two gas giants and assorted debris.

  11. Alistair Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Looks around for the big black oblong

    We might want to go back over the dataset(s) and see what we last collated, or perhaps our next target and check it closely .....

    "All these worlds are yours except.... "

    (THE black helicopter in the universe ....)

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: Looks around for the big black oblong

      Don't know about any black helicopter of the universe, but I know of one that qualifies for our galaxy.

      Sagittarius A*.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019