NASA bids goodbye to planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has run out of fuel

Enlarge NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has run out

Now orbiting some 156 million kilometres from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet after its retirement, the USA space agency said. "In 1983, when I started my search for methods to detect planets orbiting other stars, the only planets that were known were those in our solar system". "Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars", said Zurbuchen.

One of the big conclusions is that there may be well more planets than stars in the Milky Way, thanks to the number of multiple-planet systems found by Kepler.

"That means they're located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water - a vital ingredient to life as we know it - might pool on the planet surface". Kepler was created to survey more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy to determine the number of sun-like stars that have Earth-size and larger planets, including those that lie in a star's 'habitable zone, ' a region where liquid water, and perhaps life, could exist. "It hit me like a sledgehammer in the chest when Kepler showed us that there really, really are planets out there of all different kinds". It would detect planets by looking for their transits across parent stars.

"Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that's full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy", he added.

Kepler was launched atop its United Launch Alliance Delta II (7925-10L) rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 17B on March 7, 2009. "Kepler has had a successful nine-and-a-half year mission". After completing its initial mission, NASA tasked Kepler with its extended K2 mission, which resulted in the spacecraft having surveyed more than half a million stars. "There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them".

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.

Artist's illustration of the Kepler spacecraft at the top of the page shows planned fields of view during its mission extension, K2.

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It also experienced problems with one of its thrusters around the time it began its 19th observation campaign in late August 2018 and went into sleep mode, though NASA was able to bring it back online in September.

Among its many findings, Dawn helped scientists discover organics on Ceres and evidence that dwarf planets could have hosted oceans over a significant part of their history-and possibly still do. Almost a decade's worth of disclosures has also led to improved understanding of our Milky Way and supernovae. The data from the extended mission were also made available to the public and science community immediately, allowing discoveries to be made at an incredible pace and setting a high bar for other missions.

Paul Hertz, NASA astrophysics division director said, "Now, because of Kepler, what we think about the universe has changed, Kepler opened the gate for the exploration of the cosmos".

As we prepare to say goodbye to these two record-breaking missions, we rejoice in the fact that discoveries will still arise from their data decades into the future.

Kepler also found planets "completely unlike those in our solar system", he told reporters.

Nasa has switched off the Kepler space telescope permanently after announcing that it had "exceeded all expectations".

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