Because of a frustrating start, officials almost discontinued this project. But despite its rocky start, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft consistently delivered on what it was made to do: to make stunning discoveries in search of planets far and beyond our own solar system.
The new discovery is a planet two and a half times the size of our own planet, placing it firmly in the super-earth category. It’s habitable and revolves around a star just a little bit smaller than what we have here in our local system. The distance between us and our sun is ninety-two million nine hundred and fifty-five thousand eight hundred seven miles, while the distance between them and their sun is only eight point four million miles. That’s almost a one-tenth difference, which may seem small in terms of percentage, but means a more-or-less million mile difference.
Kepler, the spacecraft that made this recent discovery, was designed to keep an electronic eye at groups of stars for four years while on the lookout for twinkles made by planets that happened to wander in front of its ever watchful gaze. The project hasn’t been all successes though. A malfunction in the early part of 2013 nearly crippled the craft. The reaction wheel, the device responsible for the telescope’s steady peek, was damaged. It was fortunate that NASA engineers were able to stabilize the spacecraft for short periods of time by utilizing something that may not be apparent to your average Joe: the force exerted by sunlight on the solar panels.
It was during the initial nine day run last February that the team detected a star which they christened HIP 116454. The team was led by Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The presence of the planet was later confirmed with ground-based telescopes and the Canadian MOST satellite.