After finding thousands of planets, NASA's Kepler mission ends

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 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's Kepler Space Telescope has run out of fuel and will be retired, following a nine-and-a-half-year mission in search of planets that might harbour life beyond our solar system. 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.

"It's a planet in between the size of the Earth and Neptune, unlike any planet in our solar system; it's a planet that may very well be a water world, a world covered in an ocean, and it's in the habitable zone", Borucki said during a news conference held yesterday (Oct. 30) to mark the end of Kepler's in-space work. "Now we know because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy". When scientists factored those finds into statistical formulas that take Kepler's limitations into account, they concluded that 20 to 50 percent of the Milky Way's stars may have rocky planets in habitable zones.

Fortunately, although Kepler is now retired, its successor, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is just getting started.

Now orbiting the sun 94 million miles (156 million km) from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet when mission engineers turn off its radio transmitters, the U.S. space agency said.

The final commands have been sent, and the spacecraft will remain a safe distance from Earth to avoid colliding with our planet.

Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 exoplanet discoveries from outside our Solar System. We've also found planets that were formed at the beginning of the formation of our galaxy six-and-a-half billion years before the formation of our own star and before the formation of the Earth.

"In the end, we didn't have a drop of fuel left over for anything else", Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center, said during a teleconference.

Four years into its mission, mechanical failures briefly halted observations.




Kepler found over two-third of the roughly 3,800 exoplanets that have been documented in the past two decades.

Just like biologists continue to discover new species by examining the samples already found in museum collections, the data already gathered by Kepler could keep astronomers busy for years to come.

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.

Kepler was able to detect light from stars, but NASA is also studying plans for space observatories that are capable of detecting light from planets.

"It has revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos", Hertz said. The probe detected distant worlds by watching for the telltale dimming of starlight as a planet passed over an alien sun's disk. But the telescope has now run out of the fuel needed for further operations, leading to its retirement.

"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".

NASA's Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

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