NASA’s veteran planet-seeking telescope is alive and well. After hibernating for a period of four weeks to save up on its dwindling fuel resources, the Kepler Space Telescope awoke from its slumber on August 2.
The exoplanet hunter woke up right on schedule and radioed home to let NASA know it was ready to resume its duties. According to the space agency, Kepler has already begun beaming back the precious data collected during Campaign 18.
“Kepler made contact yesterday and is successfully downloading its store of science data from its last observation campaign,” NASA wrote on Twitter on August 3.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the iconic space telescope was placed in “nap mode” in early July, when the space agency decided to pause Kepler’s science operations.
The move was prompted by a recent “indication that the spacecraft fuel tank is running very low,” NASA explained at the time.
While this cut short Kepler’s 18th campaign, which only lasted for 51 days instead of 82, it did, however, allow the spacecraft to preserve enough fuel for August’s data transmission.
“Returning the data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel,” NASA officials stated in a news release.
With Kepler now awake, scientists are looking forward to Campaign 19, another 80-day adventure into the unknown, set to start on August 6. If everything goes well during the current data delivery and the spacecraft is left with enough fuel for one more round of observations, Kepler will carry on doing what it knows best and possibly even find more exoplanets.
Launched in March 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope hunts for exoplanets by looking at the brightness of stars in order to detect the sudden dips in glow that occur when an orbiting planet passes in front of its host star.
Known as the transit method, this technique has helped Kepler uncover 70 percent of all the known exoplanets, notes Space.com.
Kepler’s latest 18 observational campaigns have been conducted during the telescope’s second mission, K2. Inaugurated in 2014, the K2 mission extended the telescope’s journey after a technical malfunction brought the original Kepler mission to an abrupt end the year before.
According to NASA, the K2 mission has been Kepler’s “second change to shine,” after the spacecraft became destabilized in 2013, when one of its four orientation-maintaining reaction wheels experienced a severe internal failure. The telescope was able to resume science operations after engineers figured out a way to stabilize it using the pressure of sunlight.
To date, Kepler has discovered 2,327 exoplanets during its original first mission, 30 of which are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in the habitable zone of their parent stars, shows NASA. The K2 mission added another 323 exoplanets to the total tally.