1. ITV Report

NASA tries to find new role for broken planet hunter Kepler

Kepler-37b, a mini-world the size of the Moon is the smallest planet yet discovered beyond the Solar System. Photo: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/PA Wire/Press Association Images

NASA scientists are trying to find a new way of using the planet hunting Kepler space telescope after attempts to fix the stricken craft failed.

The observatory was launched in 2009 to hunt for Earth-like worlds which could sustain life and has become the most successful planet hunting telescope in history.

Kepler discovered more than 130 confirmed planets. Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Four gyroscope-like reaction wheels are used to precisely point Kepler at possible new planets and with only two still working scientists are now trying to think of new ways to use the craft.

Kepler completed its initial mission in 2012, but has continued to identify new planets since and NASA are keen to keep the telescope in action if at all possible.

Kepler has identified 135 confirmed new planets and 3,548 possible new planets. Despite the crippled state of the telescope the scientists behind it are still pleased with what Kepler has discovered.

At the beginning of our mission, no one knew if Earth-size planets were abundant in the galaxy. If they were rare, we might be alone.

Now at the completion of Kepler observations, the data holds the answer to the question that inspired the mission: Are Earths in the habitable zone of stars like our sun common or rare?

– William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator

Kepler has provided mountains of data and only the first two years' worth have been examined by experts back on Earth - there is still two years of data yet to be sifted through, sparking hopes that although Kepler's planet hunting days may be over it may have already found a twin of our own small blue planet.