Published: Fri, November 02, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

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

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

"But now we know, because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission, that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy". "Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars", said Zurbuchen.

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has run out of fuel, and its mission has come to an end 94 million miles from Earth, the agency announced Tuesday. But more important, Kepler was the first NASA mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of other stars. "Now we know because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy".

Based on the planets discovered by Kepler, researchers now think about 20 to 50 percent of stars in the Milky Way harbor rocky, roughly Earth-sized planets that may be able to support liquid water on their surfaces.

Earlier this year, it became clear that the Kepler Space Telescope was running low on fuel - NASA has since been planning a replacement to take over the iconic satellite's ongoing search for exoplanets.

NASA's legendary Kepler space telescope, which is responsible for the discovery of thousands of weird and intriguing exoplanets, has officially run out of fuel.

The spacecraft will be retired within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth, according to NASA.

"But what was just as incredible to me was the implications, contacts, and conversations I had over the years with others about religion, life, the universe, and our home planet Earth", Howell added. Those systems range from Kepler-233, whose parent star may be merely 5 million to 10 million years old, to Kepler-444, whose planets may be more than twice Earth's 4.5 billion-year age.

"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 the mission, the main goals had been met, but mechanical failures put a sudden end to future observations.

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Tess project scientist Padi Boyd called Kepler's mission "stunningly successful".

The engineers essentially rebooted the mission, devising a way to allow Kepler to survey new parts of the sky every few months. This enabled an extended mission for the spacecraft, dubbed K2, which lasted as long as the first mission and bumped Kepler's count of surveyed stars up to more than 500,000. 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, worlds that can later be explored for signs of life by missions such as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

Kepler discovered thousands of planets, many of them similar in size to the Earth (far right), though how they might appear is still a matter of speculation.

Kepler used a detection method called transit photometry, which looked for periodic, repetitive dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.

But the telescope has now run out of the fuel needed for further operations.

Kepler hands off the baton to TESS now, NASA said.

Kepler has revolutionised our understanding of the universe.

"The Kepler spacecraft may now be retired, but the Kepler data will continue to yield scientific discoveries for years to come", Hertz said.

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