Kepler spacecraft finds first exoplanet during new K2 mission

NASA has tasked the Kepler spacecraft with a new mission that is called K2. Kepler has been in space for a long time and under its previous mission parameters it found many exoplanets and helped scientists learn all they could about the distant worlds. NASA says that Kepler has now found its first new exoplanet under its K2 mission parameters.

The problem with Kepler is that it suffered a component failure during its main mission. One of Kepler's reaction wheels failed and left scientists wondering if Kepler was going to be scientifically helpful at all. NASA now says that thanks to innovative ideas and hard work by scientists on the program, Kepler is detecting candidates for more follow-up by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Lead researcher Andrew Vanderburg was studying publically available data collected by Kepler during a test of K2 in February 2014. He was able to confirm measurements that were taken by the HARPD-North spectrograph of the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands that indicated the wobble of a star caused by a planet's gravitational pull as it orbits the star.

The exoplanet that Kepler detected is called HIP 116454b and is 2.5 times the diameter of the Earth. It has a nine-day orbit around its parent star, which is smaller and cooler than our Sun. The close orbit would make life impossible, at least as we know it. It's great news for scientist to find another mission that Kepler is capable of performing with the failure of one of its four reaction wheels. Those reaction wheels are used to stabilize the spacecraft.