Kepler Space Telescope retires after almost a decade of hunting planets

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a file image the US space agency's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel and is being retired after nine years

The Kepler space telescope's end has finally come

The Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel and will be retired after a 9-1/2-year mission in which it detected thousands of planets beyond our solar system and boosted the search for worlds that might harbor alien life, NASA said on Tuesday.

Kepler showed us that "we live in a galaxy that's teeming with planets, and we're ready to take the next step to explore those planets", she said.

Kepler's discoveries have shed a new light on mankind's place in the Universe.

"Around every star in the galaxy, we're confident now that there's probably at least one planet - so more planets than stars without a doubt and that's something that Kepler has shown us", he said.

Nasa's retired principal investigator for the Kepler mission, Bill Borucki, described it as an "enormous success".

The $700 million mission led to the discovery of more than 2,600 of the roughly 3,800 exoplanets or planets outside our solar system that have been documented in the past two decades. TESS is created to survey about 200,000 stars across a wide stretch of sky in our celestial neighborhood, and identify prospects for further study.

Just like biologists continue to discover new species by examining the samples already found in museum collections, the data already gathered by Kepler could keep astronomers busy for years to come.

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

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It's the pioneering telescope which, for those of us on Earth, filled the galaxy with planets.

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Now orbiting some 156 million kilometres from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet after its retirement, the USA space agency said.

In 2012, Kepler completed its primary mission and was awarded an extension. Over the life of the mission, more than 100,000 of those stars were actively monitored by Kepler.

Tess's range of observation is 400 times larger than that of Kepler, and unlike its predecessor, Tess will not always be looking at the same section of the sky. Originally positioned to stare continuously at 150,000 stars in one star-studded patch of the sky in the constellation Cygnus, Kepler took the first survey of planets in our galaxy and became the agency's first mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of their stars.

And even though the mission is at an end, that doesn't mean Kepler's scientific life is finished. "There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them".

Four years into the mission, the main goals had been met, but mechanical failures put a sudden end to future observations. With a combined catalog of exoplanets discovered by both Kepler and TESS, in the early 2020s, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will then be able to follow-up on the most tantalizing finds.

Kepler was succeeded by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which was launched in April on a two-year mission.

Since that time, NASA changed the craft's mission to adjust to the telescope's new normal, calling the updated mission K2. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

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