NASA’s exoplanet-hunting telescope has always had an unsung talent for star physics on the side. Now that Kepler’s primary mission is compromised by broken reaction wheels on the spacecraft, some scientists hope to refocus it on an unprecedented study of the most massive stars in our galaxy, whose inner workings are the least well understood of all star classes.
During the four years since its launch, Kepler has discovered more than 3,000 exoplanet candidates, multiplying many times over the tally of known worlds beyond our solar system. But in July 2012 one of its four stabilizing reaction wheels failed, and then in May 2013 a second one gave up the ghost, leaving the spacecraft without the ability to point itself precisely toward a single spot in the sky.
The loss of the reaction wheels has effectively ended Kepler’s chances of discovering more low-mass planets, especially the golden ring prize of an Earth analogue. But NASA has hardly given up hope that the telescope can still do great things, and on August 2 the agency put out a call for ideas on how to use Kepler in its two-wheeled state. Among the dozens of proposals are plans to use the telescope to detect near-Earth asteroids, find Jupiter-size exoplanets, and monitor Neptune. And some stellar physicists say the change in Kepler’s fortunes has left the telescope in an ideal position to increase what is known about how large stars evolve.To read more, click here.