Published: Mon, November 05, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope retires after nine years exploring space

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope retires after nine years exploring space

Closer to home, Dawn marked several firsts in robotic space exploration, including the first spacecraft to orbit two separate objects, the first to orbit any object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the first science mission to use ion propulsion, a technology that gave the spacecraft additional velocity and enabled it to orbit Vesta, then depart, travel to Ceres and enter orbit around the dwarf planet. By surveying the whole sky, we will find systems that orbit stars 10 times closer and 100 times brighter than those found by Kepler-opening up new possibilities for measuring planet masses and densities, studying their atmospheres, characterizing their host stars, and establishing the full nature of the systems in which the planets reside. By investigating a tiny slice of the sky, Kepler has detected light from many thousands of these stars in its view, and variations in the light received has been an indicator of planets.

The information received from Kepler was made accessible to the public and resulted in a phenomenal explosion in citizen science - hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world helped sift through the data, revealing exoplanets that others (and other computers) had missed.

Launched in 2009, Kepler observed 530,506 stars and discovered more than 2600 confirmed planets. 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. Some of these include rocky planets in their stars' habitable zones, where temperatures allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces. And the search for exoplanets continues today telescope TESS.

But the mission was not without its hiccups - in 2013, mechanical failures stopped Kepler's observations.

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This image was spotted as part of Hubble mission to better understand how new stars are born. "There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them".

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", said Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

Both missions can be described as having put scientists a step closer in the search for extraterrestrial life, and data sets from both will continue to provide scientists with discoveries for many years. Kepler telescope had been running low on fuel for months.

Kepler is succeeded by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess), which Nasa launched in April.

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