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Sunlight Helped Revive Telescope That Found 100 New Planets

artist's concept of select planetary discoveries
(Photo by W. Stenzel - NASA)
An artist's concept of select planetary discoveries made by NASA's Kepler space telescope.

Imagine you’re working on a telescope, which is deep in space, and it basically just stops working.

That was the situation with NASA’s Kepler Telescope a few years back, but scientists were able to figure out how to use sunlight to get it back up and running. And this week, the team working on the K2 mission announced the telescope had spotted about 100 new planets — the biggest find since the mission started a couple of years ago.

Astronomer Ian Crossfield is one of those on the team. He’s a NASA Sagan Fellow at the University of Arizona.

Interview highlights:

What do we know about these planets?

Two things, Crossfield said. "The size of them and we know roughly how much starlight hits the top of the planet." The starlight can be an indication of the temperature on the planets.

We've found planets before, what's makes these different?

Brighter stars light these planets, so researchers can study the planets in much closer detail, Crossfield said.

How do we learn more?

Observations with ground-based telescopes in Hawaii and California have already begun and should help determine the planets' masses. This can tell researchers whether the planets are gaseous or rocky. Crossfield said the Hubble Space Telescope can provide more information about their atmospheres.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.