Kepler, the planet-hunting space telescope, is dead

3,000 potential exoplanets later, a failed reaction wheel means the end of the Kepler mission.

The Kepler telescope, a one tonne satellite launched in 2009 to scan for planets outside of our solar system, is dead.

Over the four years of its mission, the spacecraft has found over 3,000 stars which might have planets orbiting them, and the earth-based analysis has confirmed 134 planets orbiting 76 of them.

In April, the mission even announced the discovery of two potentially habitable planets. The two were roughly earth sized, and roughly earth temperature as well. Each of them might just lie in the "habitable zone", where liquid water can potentially exist.

Sadly, shortly after that discovery, Kepler ran into problems. The telescope manoeuvres through space with four reaction wheels, which keep it pointing in the right direction using a gyroscope effect. In July 2012, one of the wheels failed, but the mission was designed to only require three to accurately aim. In May this year, however, a second wheel failed. Yesterday, Nasa announced that they had given up trying to fix the wheels. Kepler can no longer be targeted accurately.

But, good news! Rumours of Kepler's death have been greatly exaggerated (by me, in paragraph one. Sorry.), because while the telescope can't be aimed any more, it's still useful. The imaging functionality works fine, and with two remaining reaction wheels and a limited amount of thruster fuel left it's even got a bit of manoeuvrability. NASA has opened it up to the community to work out the best way to make use of what's left working; one proposal, for instance, involves heavily post-processing the images to remove drift caused by the lack of a third wheel.

There's hope for the mission yet, which is great, because as Ars Technica's John Timmer writes, there's a lot more to learn:

A longer mission would identify planets further from their host stars. To identify a candidate, Kepler needs to see it pass between Earth and the star the exoplanet orbits three times. The further out a planet is, the longer one orbit takes, so the longer it will need to do three passes. As such, the existing data is heavily biased toward planets that orbit very close to their host stars; this also means that most of the potentially habitable planets we've spotted are orbiting dwarf stars, which are dim enough that water can remain liquid close in.

In other words, we simply haven't looked long enough to detect planets in a habitable zone around energetic stars. We have a much better picture of the diversity of exoplanets, but it's far from a complete one.

Kepler. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Selfie sticks mask a bigger problem we have with each other – interaction

New services and products, like selfie sticks, ensure we never have to look each other in the eye, or ask for a tiny favour.

Selfie sticks are the worst, there's no denying it. I was so close to having a selfie stick-free weekend wandering around London aimlessly. But I made the mistake of walking across Westminster Bridge and saw plenty in action. And who can blame Londoners and tourists wanting to frame themselves right next to views of parliament or the London Eye on the opposite side? I'm a sucker for excellent views, like anybody else.

Whereas selfies are inherently a necessary evil for all of those apps that require a decent profile picture, the stick takes this indulgence to a whole new level. Before this metal, phone-holding pole became hilariously popular across the globe, we all had to do the unthinkable (prepare to gasp): ask someone to take a photo of us! How strange and good-hearted of us to trust a member of the public with those brilliant point-and-shoot cameras that we've now stuffed in our attics and bedroom drawers.

I can understand using one in a secluded place where there's nobody around. But isn't the reason behind the selfie stick to basically minimise your interaction with others? After all, a human is going to take a better photo of you and your loved one on the Thames, instead of fumbling for the shutter button on the stick and trying to see the screen a few feet away. We've become too afraid and awkward to ask someone for this tiny favour. This level of awkwardness is just being translated into all sorts of stupid goods and services around the world. It's as if the fictional Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm is being catered to in so many ways.

Heard of the Breakup Shop? Yes, it sounds exactly what you think it would be about. A company that can send an endearing Snapchat message so you can break up with the person you just took that selfie with. Even the now classic method of using email is too considered and measured. And by that I mean having the courage to send an email yourself, not via a third-party service. What happened to seeing people's faces in the flesh and witnessing how our words affect them? We used to be so caring and thoughtful this way.

But of course, that's a service for something serious a person with no courage could end up using. What about everyday, tedious matters? Silicon Valley has you covered! For example, you can avoid going to the petrol – sorry, gas – station and doing that thing car owners have to do frequently: fill up your tank with fuel. Don't worry, this giant "inconvenience" can now be removed from your life through Purple. What's that? It's a service where you pay for fuel through an app and share your car's location. At some point, a dude-bro (or sister) will pop round and fill up the fuel tank, so long as you remember to leave the cap open. Yes. This is a real thing.

The word convenience comes up very frequently with these superfluous start-ups. I think it all started to go into overdrive after Graze, a snack delivery service, which I can understand because I'd find it hard to make a low-fat cake and only restrict myself to a small cube for the whole week. Certain colleagues of mine are hooked to these sorts of things, so much so that I stick by my claim of Wall-E, in which humans are bolted to self-driving seats unable to move, being potentially the most accurate of all sci-fi films ever made.

However, other start-ups are so flat-out idiotic, you have to question why they exist, like Fetch Coffee. Why would you pay extra to have a Starbucks drink delivered to your door? After all, Starbucks sell that stuff in the supermarkets for you to make yourself when you are at home and away from one of their cafes. Are we simply so annoyed by the act of queuing and recognising each other's existence that we want our morning coffee personally delivered to us in such a wasteful way?

It's pretty simple. We're all becoming fumbling, anxious outcasts, constantly inconvenienced by life itself. We're determined to avoid interaction with others even more than is already possible. No wonder the best YouTube channels are of fellow citizens sharing stories of awkward encounters – they're my favourite too.

The Office, NBC

These are all passive distractions we're happy to engage in, so we can avoid sitting with someone for two minutes and provide, in the words of Dwight Schrute, undivided attention to others. It reminds me of an appearance by Louis CK on Conan O'Brien's American talk show. He says everyone has something inside them that is "forever empty", and we're losing the ability to feel empathy towards others.

The most striking thing about following Adele's re-emergence like a fanboy was the small atom of information saying she had returned to doing her own laundry again after giving up the chore. Perhaps it's time we become happy and content in being able to wash our own clothes, fuel up a car and even ask someone to take a photo of ourselves. It'll make us better people.