Video showing K2 observations of Neptune, in a dance with the two moons Triton and Nereid.


In keeping with its origins, K2 is still discovering exoplanets—troves of them. As we reported last week, the spacecraft raked in 238 exoplanet finds in 2014, though only 100 of these have been confirmed so far.

Unlike Kepler, K2 is looking at targets right in our cosmic backyard—worlds tens of light years away, instead of hundreds to thousands. The planets the K2 missions discovers are among the very first we’ll be able to get a deep look at with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). When JWST launches in 2018, its unprecedented seeing power will allow astronomers to peer into the atmospheres of nearby worlds—and search for signs of life.


“This is a really exciting area,” Barclay said. “We’re starting to find the first super-Earth sized planets that are going to be the first James Webb targets.”

“K2 fortuitously fulfills what we didn’t even identify as a gap,” he added, referring to the years between the original Kepler mission and the big exoplanet surveys to come. “I’ve heard people say this is the best thing that happened to Kepler.”


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Top image: Artist’s concept of the Kepler Space Telescope, via NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech