NASA's planet hunting Kepler space telescope retires

Ismael LynchNov 02, 2018

The Kepler space telescope that found thousands of planets beyond our solar system and boosted the search for worlds that might support life has run out of fuel, NASA said.

The US space agency's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel and is being retired after nine and a half years, having helped discover more than 2,600 planets, some of which may hold life, officials said Tuesday. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars.

"Around every star in the galaxy, we're confident now that there's probably at least one planet - so more planets than stars without a doubt and that's something that Kepler has shown us", he said. But Kepler's overall planet census showed that 20 to 50 per cent of the stars visible in the night sky could have planets like ours in the habitable zone for life, he said. A new planet-hunter, named TESS, was launched in April and Kepler has been left drifting around the Sun more than a hundred-and-fifty-million kilometres from Earth. Take, for example, Kepler-22b, which he calls one of the most interesting planets in the batch. The agency said it's made a decision to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth.

Of that total, the science team picked some 300,000 that were the right age, composition and brightness to host Earth-like planets.

The nine-year planet-hunting mission discovered 2,899 exoplanet candidates and 2,681 confirmed exoplanets in our galaxy, revealing that our solar system isn't the only home for planets. We've also found planets that were formed at the beginning of the formation of our galaxy six-and-a-half billion years before the formation of our own star and before the formation of the Earth.

Jessie Dotson, Kepler project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, said, "I guess I feel like it was the little spacecraft that could".

There was a lot of malfunction that happened with steering and dwindling hydrazine fuel levels costing $600 million spacecraft which stayed in action nearly for nine years and with 19 observation campaigns which are longer than its original four-year mission.

Kepler found over two-third of the roughly 3,800 exoplanets that have been documented in the past two decades.

The end came just a few months shy of the 10th anniversary of Kepler's 2009 launch.

Kepler has studied more than 500,000 stars in this way.

Before retiring the spacecraft, scientists pushed Kepler to its full potential, successfully completing multiple observation campaigns and downloading valuable science data even after initial warnings of low fuel.

While Kepler was focusing on looking for planets around sun-like stars, TESS will advance its legacy by looking at smaller stars to find Earth-sized worlds out there in the universe.

Previously, experts from NASA, which spetsializiruyutsya on the possible existence of extraterrestrial civilizations, said that aliens may be very different in appearance from the representations of the person. Among its chief insights: that planets far outnumber stars.

"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", Dotson said.

Planetary exploration is going through a wider-ranging changing of the guard: For example, NASA's Dawn mission to the dwarf planet Ceres is ending, due to the same empty-tank issue that Kepler faced.

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