Kepler telescope dead after finding thousands of worlds

Kepler telescope dead after finding thousands of worlds

NASA is retiring its Kepler space telescope because it's run out of fuel after almost a decade spent hunting several thousand planets beyond our solar system.

NASA announced the termination of the mission of the Kepler space Observatory, almost 10 years after its launch.

As it orbits some 156 million kilometres from Earth, Keplar's radio transmitters will soon be turned off by mission engineers and the spacecraft will be left to drift forever around the sun.

Since it launched in March 2009, the telescope identified over 2,600 planets outside of our solar system, and found that as much as half of the stars visible from Earth could be surrounded by small, rocky, Earth-like planets. The planet, called Kepler-16b, is the most "Tatooine-like" planet yet found in our galaxy and is depicted here in this artist's concept with its two stars.

Four years into the mission-after all primary objectives were met-mechanical failures temporarily halted Kepler's observations. "This is not unexpected, and this marks the end of spacecraft operations for Kepler and the end of the collection of science data". Borucki sought to develop what ultimately became Kepler for decades, eventually convincing NASA that a space telescope that could perform precise photometry of thousands of stars, needed to detect the brightness variations caused by transits, was feasible.

The telescope laid bare the diversity of planets that reside in our Milky Way galaxy, with findings indicating that distant star systems are populated with billions of planets, and even helped pinpoint the first moon known outside our solar system.

Kepler has finally run out of fuel.

Since Kepler's launch in 2009, scientists have spotted a total of 2,681 confirmed planets orbiting other suns within the data gathered by the instrument.

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The successor of the telescope is far more powerful Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) which was launched in 2018 April a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and is projected to discover over 20,000 new exoplanets.

"Basically, Kepler opened the gate for mankind's exploration of the cosmos", William Borucki, Kepler's now-retired chief investigator, told reporters.

The observation of so many stars has allowed scientists to better understand stellar behaviors and properties, which is critical information in studying the planets that orbit them. They convinced their peers and they convinced NASA that this was a mission that had to be done.

"We are by no means disappointed in the performance of this spacecraft", Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center said. That is, a small dip in the light from a star as the planet passed in front of it.

Astronomers were dazzled by the planets it found, including Kepler-22b, probably a water world between the size of Earth and Neptune.

This enabled an extended mission for the spacecraft, dubbed K2, which lasted as long as the first mission and bumped Kepler's count of surveyed stars up to more than 500,000.

"Now, because of Kepler, what we think about the universe has changed", NASA astrophysics division director Paul Hertz told the Verge. "I'm excited about the diverse discoveries that are yet to come from our data and how future missions will build upon Kepler's results".

"NASA is handing off the mantle of planet hunter from the Kepler space telescope to TESS", Hertz declared.

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