NASA's Planet-Hunting Kepler Telescope Has Officially Run Out Of Fuel

The Kepler space telescope's end has finally come

Voyage of discovery: Kepler was NASA's first planet-hunting mission and it was wildly successful: so far it has discovered 2,662 exoplanets in our galaxy. 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.

In March this year, Charlie Sobeck, system engineer for the Kepler space telescope mission, said that NASA knew Kepler was reaching the point where it would run out of fuel.

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

NASA announced on Tuesday that the Kepler mission - which has transformed how we understand planets outside of our solar system - is officially over.

Thanks to Kepler's data, which was all safely beamed back to Earth before the end of the mission, we now know that planets are, in fact, exceedingly common. "Now we know there are billions of planets that are rocky like the Earth and are orbiting their stars in the habitable zone, or the Goldilocks zone, where their temperatures might be conducive to water on the surface".

A successor to Kepler launched in April, NASA's Tess spacecraft, has its sights on stars closer to home.

What Kepler found was that planets around other stars are commonplace.

The telescope had been in operation for almost ten years after being launched into space in 2009.

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The space agency says it has chose to retire Kepler while it is located in its present orbit, which it describes as safe and away from Earth. The distinction helped scientists zero in on potential Earth-like planets and better the odds for finding life.

The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn't exist in our solar system - a world between the size of Earth and Neptune - and we have much to learn about these planets.

'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, ' said Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at Nasa's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. However, while Kepler spent its prime mission looking at a single, very small region of the sky, TESS is performing an all-sky survey focused on the nearest and brightest stars.

The end came just a few months shy of the 10th anniversary of Kepler's 2009 launch. "And the Kepler mission has paved the way for future exoplanet-studying missions".

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. By closely analyzing how much the host star's brightness dropped and for how long, researchers can tease out characteristics of the planet such as size and orbital distance. It's also illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars. Among its chief insights: that planets far outnumber stars.

"It has revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos", Hertz said.

NASA's Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Though the solution did not restore full functionality that's why Kepler could only aim itself for around 83 days at a time but made another phase of operations possible. "That was an fantastic diving catch", said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters.

Borucki, who dreamed up the mission decades ago, said one of his favourite discoveries was Kepler 22b, a water planet bigger than Earth but where it is not too warm and not too cold - the type "that could lead to life".

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