Nasa to retire its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

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"It was not a surprise and means the end of the operation of the spacecraft and gathering science data", said Herz, reports RIA Novosti. Meaning it found more planets lurking out there than even stars. That kept things going for another five years, but Kepler's work is now complete.

Kepler was originally positioned to watch 150,000 stars in a patch of sky within the constellation Cygnus. It had installed the largest digital camera for space observations with which t was able to collect data about the Milky Way, supernova, the behavior of planets and stars that are orbiting around the planets outside the solar system. The second phase of Kepler's mission was called K2 and the discoveries in this extended mission further improved our understanding of planets and planetary systems.

"When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago we didn't know of a single planet outside our solar system", said the Kepler mission's founding principal investigator, William Borucki, now retired from NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. During K2, the Kepler spacecraft continued gathering the data necessary to hunt for exoplanets, and has allowed researchers to study other astrophysical questions.

When the telescope was launched, it carried 12 liters of fuel for its engine, which was used to correct its drifts and control its orbit.

What Kepler found during its lifetime could be a guide not only in the continuing search for exoplanets, but the search for anything alive beyond Earth.

Back in 2009, the Kepler telescope was the first NASA mission to find planets outside of our solar system, at the size of Earth.

These data will enable new scientific discoveries for years to come as scientists fully examine the data and augment it with additional observations. NASA has made a decision to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth.

"Kepler has exceeded all of our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond", Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy director of NASA's Science Missions Department, said in a statement.

Are we alone? NASA's new planet-hunting mission, poised to launch Monday, aims to advance the search for extraterrestrial life by scanning the skies for nearby, Earth-like planets.

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