What to do with a 2-wheeled Kepler?
Now that Kepler is officially 2-wheeled, NASA and the Kepler team are looking at what Kepler could be re-purposed to do. Except for having a bum leg, the rest of Kepler is in good shape. NASA put out a call for white papers, detailed proposals for ideas for what to potentially do next with Kepler. There was no shortage of ideas. In total there were 42 white papers. The proposed ideas ranged from studying the photometric variability of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) to a microlensing planet search. There is even a white paper from Kepler’s Principal Investigator (PI) Bill Borucki on how Kepler could continue exoplanet observations (though perhaps not at the same precision before the wheel failure). There are also other proposed options to do an exoplanet transit search by targeting new fields where the Kepler pointing would be better than going back to the the current Kepler field, though likely the observation span would be different from that before the reaction wheel failure. There are even proposals to stay the course and continue to follow-up the Kepler field even with the reduced sensitivity to transit depth with the aim of monitoring known Kepler planetary systems for transit timing variations (TTVs) and also look for long period giant planets.
If you’re interested in reading about all the proposed ideas in gory detail, all the white papers are online and freely available on the Kepler Guest Observer website. If you’re interested in the abridged version, Astrobites has an excellent summary by Nick Ballering highlighting the main categories of use cases proposed.
Some time in the Spring of 2014, NASA will decide on an alternative plan for Kepler and hopefully if there is funding, Kepler will be taking data in the Fall of 2014 whether it’s looking for exoplanets, searching for Near Earth Asteroids, or something else.