Published: Fri, November 02, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

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

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

The Kepler space telescope will be retired after running out of fuel nine years after its initial launch, the space agency announced Tuesday.

The Kepler Space Telescope gave us mere earthlings an incredable view of the universe we reside in, with images of planetary systems thousands of light years agway.

The telescope's successor, the far more powerful Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April 2018 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and is projected to discover over 20,000 new exoplanets. Professor Lewis Dartnell from the University Of Westminster discusses Kepler's legacy.

"Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm", Zurbuchen said.

A marvel of engineering The $600 million Kepler mission found alien worlds using the "transit method", picking up on tiny brightness dips caused when orbiting planets cross a star's face - as seen from Kepler's perspective.

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"Before we launched Kepler, we didn't know if planets were common or rare in our galaxy", he said.

As we prepare to say goodbye to these two record-breaking missions, we rejoice in the fact that discoveries will still arise from their data decades into the future.

Kepler has finally run out of fuel.

When it comes to the planet quest, the next big thing on the horizon is the James Webb Space Telescope, which is now due for launch in 2021 and may be able to look for signs of life in the atmospheres of alien planets. The most common size of planet discovered by Kepler doesn't exist in our solar system-a world between the size of Neptune and Earth. 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 spacecraft had been in what NASA called a "no-fuel-use" safe mode since it was contacted by controllers October 19.

TESS builds on Kepler's foundation with fresh batches of data in its search of planets orbiting some 200,000 of the brightest and nearest stars to the Earth.

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Kepler's nine-and-a-half-year flight was more than twice as long as originally planned.

Nasa said it has made a decision to retire the spacecraft "within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth". The sequence of commands for doing so has been transmitted to the spacecraft, awaiting a final command from the ground to run them. Researchers used these observations to then search for periodic dimming events around each star, which indicates an exoplanet has passed in front of the star.

NASA's most prolific planet-hunter is powering down after almost a decade of revealing the diversity of our galaxy's planets.

As of today, Kepler has detected 2,681 confirmed planets, plus 2,899 other candidates yet to be confirmed, said Kepler project scientist Jessie Dotson.

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. "There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them". NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development.

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The spacecraft, whose total mission cost was about $700 million, worked well right up to the end, other than the failure of two reaction control wheels in 2013 that ended the spacecraft's primary mission and led to the development of an alternative mission, called K2, that allowed Kepler to continue observations of regions of the sky for weeks at a time up until it ran out of hydrazine.

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