NASA Bids Goodbye to Planet-Hunting Kepler Space Telescope

Rest In Space NASA Officially Retires Kepler Telescope As It Runs Out of Fuel

The announcement comes as no surprise. Scientists will continue to study the data it returned and from newer spacecraft.

"Basically, Kepler opened the gate for mankind's exploration of the cosmos", William Borucki, Kepler's now-retired chief investigator, told reporters. He is best known for his laws of planetary motion. However, the unit continued to send data already collected, a year later, engineers managed to partially restore his work. "Repeatable performance is critical, as Kepler will have to make measurements of a star's brightness and then return to it perhaps a year later to take another brightness measurement", he explained.

The Kepler telescope discovered more than 2600 of the roughly 3800 exoplanets - the term for planets outside our solar system - that have been documented in the past two decades. The data provided by Kepler has also helped the researchers come up with a new method of accessing if a planet comprised of a solid surface, such as Mars and Earth or gaseous such as Saturn and Jupiter. How many might be "Earth-like" is still debatable because scientists have not reached consensus on what that really means.

"To "Kepler" we do not know how often or rare in our galaxy there are planets", - says the head of the NASA astrophysics division, Paul Hertz.

That's a small number, but Kepler looked at only a few stars cosmically-speaking. Some of the planets orbiting them may even have water and be able to support human life. The latest data from the Kepler Space Telescope's last mission, Campaign 19, will be used together with the data gathered by its replacement, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. In addition to the mission data, the archive hosts community-provided data products that provide improved data analysis necessary for certain astrophysical studies or improved measurements of the stars observed by Kepler.

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Nasa's new space observatory, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess, has already taken up the search for planets in the nearby cosmos, and giant telescopes both on the ground and in space are being created to detect and observe exoplanets - planets that circle stars outside our solar system.

Borucki explained during the teleconference that they expected to find thousands of planets and they did, but they were not the size anticipated.

Launched on March 6, 2009, the planet hunter has spotted more than 2,600 worlds, many of them earthlike and orbiting within habitable zones. Both cases involved critical gyroscopes, needed to point the telescopes. Kepler watched the very beginning of exploding stars, or supernovae, to gain unprecedented insight about stars and witnessed the death of a solar system. The same is true of another NASA spacecraft, Dawn, that is nearing the end of its life after 11 years exploring the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.

However, a solution was found and in 2014 the "K2" element of the mission began, using solar pressure to help stabilize the pointing direction and observe new patches of the night sky.

Kepler project systems engineer Charlie Sobeck said Kepler's transmitters soon will be turned off so it will not cause unintentional interference.

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