NASA's Kepler telescope dead after finding thousands of worlds

Cesar Mills
November 2, 2018

The Kepler space telescope of NASA will soon be retired after successfully providing information on several new planets outside the solar system in nine years and six months informed the USA space agency on Tuesday. But engineers discovered it was running low on fuel earlier this summer and extracted the last of the data before the telescope's mission ended.

In the announcement, NASA says that Kepler has been retired "within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth".

William Borucki, who like Kepler is now retired but was the mission's founding principal investigator, added: "When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago we didn't know of a single planet outside our solar system". The data is still being analyzed, but it indicates that there are probably billions more exoplanets in our galaxy, some which may contain life. In this century, the number of known exoplanets has exploded in size, mainly due to this spacecraft, NASA's Kepler space telescope, which was specifically designed as a planet-hunter. Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS was launched by NASA this year April to replace Kepler.

"The Kepler mission has paved the way for future exoplanet studying missions". It began science operations in late July, as Kepler was waning, and is looking for planets orbiting 200,000 of the brightest nearby stars to Earth.

Despite a malfunctioning steering system and dwindling hydrazine fuel levels, the $US600 ($846) million spacecraft stayed in action for nine years and 19 observation campaigns-far longer than its original four-year mission. "Many are still hiding in the data, ready to be discovered", said Susan Mullally, a scientist working on the Kepler mission at STScI.

Kepler was launched in March 2009 with enough fuel to keep it going for at least six years, according to The Verge.

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NASA's Kepler spacecraft has completed its primary planet-hunting and follow-up K2 missions and will be decommissioned. NASA woke the craft up in September, then finally on October 30 the space agency announced that the time had come.

TESS will use a technique to find planets that's similar to Kepler's approach, yet it will be an eminently more powerful mission.

"W$3 e know there are more planets than stars in our universe", Paul Hertz, NASA's director of astrophysics, said in a press release about TESS.

NASA's Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. It found inferno-like gas giants, rocky planets, planets orbiting binary stars, Earth-size planets, planets in the habitable zone capable of supporting liquid water on the surface, planets twice the size of Earth, the strangely flickering Tabby's Star, new details about the TRAPPIST-1 planetsand, in December, an eight-planet system. At first, scientists didn't discover many exoplanets, but in just a short time, Kepler discovered thousands of exoplanets.

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", said Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California's Silicon Valley. "These results will form the basis for future searches for life".

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