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As Kepler Running ‘low’ On Fuel Scientists At NASA Prepares To Download Data

In 2013, Kepler's primary mission ended when a second reaction wheel broke, rendering it unable to hold its gaze steady at the original field of view.

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NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
Nasa's Opportunity rover might have 'died' on Mars. Flickr

Scientists at NASA are preparing to download the latest bit of data stored in its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope as the spacecraft is now running “very low” on fuel.

The US space agency has placed the spacecraft in a no-fuel-use safe mode to save the remaining fuel so that data extraction can be completed, NASA said on Friday.

On August 2, the Kepler team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and manoeuvre the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data.

Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel.

But as of now, returning the data back to Earth is the “highest priority” for the remaining fuel.

Since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign, staring at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015.

The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones.

To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled in early August.

Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode.

If the manoeuvre and download are successful, the team will begin its 19th observation campaign on August 6 with the remaining fuel, NASA said, adding that it will provide an update after the scheduled download.

The US space agency has been monitoring the Kepler spacecraft closely for signs of low fuel for quite some time now, and expects it to run out of fuel in the next few months.

Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.

Among other findings, recently 24 new planet discoveries were made using data from the 10th observation campaign, adding to the spacecraft’s growing bounty of 2,650 confirmed planets.

The Kepler space telescope, which is now 94 million miles away from Earth, has survived many potential knock-outs during its nine years in flight, from mechanical failures to being blasted by cosmic rays.

planet-hunting Kepler space telescope
planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. Flickr

The spacecraft was given a new lease on life by using the pressure of sunlight to maintain its pointing, like a kayak steering into the current.

Reborn as “K2,” this extended mission requires the spacecraft to shift its field of view to new portions of the sky roughly every three months in what scientists refer to as a “campaign.”

Initially, the Kepler team estimated that the K2 mission could conduct 10 campaigns with the remaining fuel.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate. The mission has already completed 17 campaigns, and since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon.

NASA in April launched another planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess).

Also read: NASA’s Kepler Discovers Nearly 100 New Exoplanets

After the Kepler space telescope, Tess is the second spacecraft which will search for planets outside our solar system, including those that could support life. (IANS)

Next Story

Chinese Scientists Reveal Distribution History of Endangered Trees

The study was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution

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Trees Landscape
Trees have spiritual representation. Pixabay

Chinese scientists have revealed how the distribution of abies trees changed in the Quaternary glacial period, providing scientific guidance for the protection of the endangered species against climate change.

As an ancient and typical coniferous species living in southwest China, abies is a good example to study the impact of the ongoing climate changes, which are similar to those in the Quaternary period, on biodiversity in this area, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Researchers from the Chengdu Institute of Biology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences rebuilt the distribution patterns in different periods of four abies taxa to know how they migrated in response to adverse climate.

Climate, Crisis, Vulnerable, trees
According to the distribution patterns of abies showed in the study, the researchers suggested that enough corridors should be conserved in Hengduan mountains and the Three Parallel Rivers to protect biodiversity against climate change. Pixabay

They revealed that seasonal fluctuation of temperature and rainfall, rather than average annual temperature and rainfall, was one of the factors that determined the four taxa’s distribution, which means that extreme climate events are major threats to the species.

Also Read: Passion, Hard Work, Zest for Life Keep me Going, Says Anil Kapoor

According to the distribution patterns of abies showed in the study, the researchers suggested that enough corridors should be conserved in Hengduan mountains and the Three Parallel Rivers to protect biodiversity against climate change.

The study was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution. (IANS)