The Kepler space telescope's end has finally come

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a file image the US space agency's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel and is being retired after nine years

NASA is retiring its Kepler space telescope because it's run out of fuel after almost a decade spent hunting several thousand planets beyond our solar system.

Nasa's retired principal investigator for the Kepler mission, Bill Borucki, described it as an "enormous success".

"We have shown there are more planets than stars in our galaxy, that many of these planets are roughly the size of the Earth and some, like the Earth, are at the right distance from their star that there could be liquid water on the surface, a situation conducive to the existence of life", Borucki said.

Fuel supplies of Kepler ran out two weeks ago leaving the telescope unable to function. "Some of those, in fact, might be actual water worlds".

"NASA is handing off the mantle of planet hunter from the Kepler space telescope to TESS", Hertz declared. "Imagine what life might be like on such planets".

"It has revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos", Hertz said.

"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. And who knows, Kepler may have already discovered a planet that is harboring life, we just need a more detailed view to spot it.

Launched on March 6, 2009, the Kepler space telescope combined cutting-edge techniques in measuring stellar brightness with the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time. It is a possible "water world" the size of Earth perhaps covered with oceans and with a water-based atmosphere.

All that is left for the Kepler spacecraft is a brief decommissioning effort, Sobeck said, that includes turning off fault protection on the spacecraft and shutting down its radio transmitter so that it does not inadvertently start transmitting in the future, causing interference.

The spacecraft's camera was not created to take pictures like other space 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.

Bill Borucki, the mission's retired principal investigator, compared the task to "trying to detect a flea crawling across a vehicle headlight when the auto was 100 miles away".

The telescope's findings indicate that distant star systems are populated with billions of planets, and it even helped pinpoint the first moon known outside our solar system.

The washing machine-sized telescope will scan nearly the entire sky for two years in the search for more worlds circling stars beyond our solar system that could harbor life. After the failure of a second gyroscope that kept the spacecraft steady in 2013, clever engineers found a way to use solar pressure to keep the spacecraft temporarily pointed in a desired direction.

The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn't exist in our solar system, however. Scientists knew this day was coming, having first revealed the low-fuel state to the public this past summer. "While this may be a sad event, we're by no means unhappy with the performance of this marvelous machine".

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

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", Kepler's project scientist Jessie Dotson said. "It always did everything we asked of it, and sometimes more". 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.

Since that time, NASA changed the craft's mission to adjust to the telescope's new normal, calling the updated mission K2.



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