November 18, 2018

‘Goodnight, Kepler’: NASA’s Planet-Hunting Telescope Has Finally Run Out Of Fuel

02 November 2018, 04:13 | Edward Lowe

NASA says goodbye to Kepler Space Telescope

NASA bids goodbye to planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

NASA's venerable Kepler space telescope, which discovered almost 2,700 exoplanets in distant star systems, has officially been retired after finally running out of fuel, the space agency wrote in a statement on Tuesday. Scientists credit it for changing the way they think about other worlds that may be visited someday.

The planet-hunting spacecraft, credited with discovering thousands of exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, will be retired and left in its current orbit, a safe distance from Earth, NASA announced Tuesday.

Kepler helped astronomers estimate between 20 to 50 percent of the stars we see in the night sky have planets the size of Earth around them.

NASA's new world-spotter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, launched in April.

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. But in August of 2018, the device has been turned on and off with a broken telescope Kepler found 44 previously unknown exoplanets.

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"The search for planets is the search for life", said Natalie Batalha, a longtime Kepler mission scientist now at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a conference in 2017.

NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz made the announcement during a teleconference today that included Bill Borucki, Kepler's principal investigator.

Kepler's data also provided a new way to assess whether a planet had a solid surface, like Earth and Mars, or is gaseous, like Jupiter and Saturn.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said Kepler "wildly exceeded all our expectations" and "sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm..." "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".

There is so much data that scientists are expecting to spend a decade in search of treasure in the trove that Kepler has provided.

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The Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory experienced technical problems earlier this month that have since been fully repaired.

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 new mission, studying near and bright stars, was dubbed K2.

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", Kepler Project Scientist Jessie Dotson said. JWST will take pictures in infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes yet flawless for studying planets through the clouds of gas and dust in space that typically obscure distant worlds.

1,815 of those planets were on 726 multiplanet systems and YouTuber Ethan Kruse has used data taken from NASA's Exoplanet Archive to make an illustrative video of those planets. "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".

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