NASA Retires Its Planet Hunter, the Kepler Space Telescope

The Kepler space telescope's end has finally come

Kepler also sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. "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.

According to the space agency, Kepler has run out of fuel in space, ending its 9.5-year planet hunting mission.

"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.

Kepler's mission was to determine if earth-like planets are common or rare outside our own solar system and was originally meant to only last three-and-a-half years. "Before we launched Kepler, we didn't know if planets were common or rare in our galaxy".

Continuing with Kepler's work is NASA's Transitting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which launched in April to survey an area of the sky 400 times larger than that observed by its predecessor.

Kepler has spent the last nine years in deep space hunting exoplanets that are otherwise hidden from humanity's view.

The spacecraft, which is now orbiting the sun 94 million miles (156 million kilometers) from Earth, will drift further from our planet when mission engineers turn off its radio transmitters, the USA space agency said.

NASA's astrophysics director Paul Hertz estimated that anywhere from two to a dozen of the planets discovered by Kepler are rocky and Earth-sized in the so-called Goldilocks zone.

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The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn't exist in our solar system - a world between the size of Earth and Neptune - and we have much to learn about these planets.

"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 Center in California's Silicon Valley.

Four years into the mission, the main goals had been met, but mechanical failures put a sudden end to future observations.

Kepler is at the verge and waiting for the command which would come in the next two weeks that will deactivate its transmitter and instruments after which it will drift in a safe orbit trailing the Earth.

Launched in March 2009, the $600 million Kepler mission searched the night sky for Earth-like planets using what's called the "transit method". In 2014, NASA announced the K2 "Second Light" extension, which increased the telescope's surveyed star count to more than 500,000. By closely analyzing how much the host star's brightness dropped and for how long, researchers can tease out characteristics of the planet such as size and orbital distance.

"Because of fuel exhaustion, the Kepler spacecraft has reached the end of its service life", he said.

Nearly lost in 2013 because of equipment failure, Kepler was salvaged by engineers and kept peering into the cosmos, thick with stars and galaxies, ever on the lookout for dips in in the brightness of stars that could indicate an orbiting planet. It would detect planets by looking for their transits across parent stars. As of October 29, Kepler had detected 2,681 exoplanets, with an additional 2,899 exoplanet candidates awaiting confirmation, said Jessie Dotson, Kepler project scientist at NASA Ames.

"The Kepler spacecraft may now be retired, but the Kepler data will continue to yield scientific discoveries for years to come", Hertz said.

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