NASA's legendary Kepler space telescope retires after running out of fuel

NASA  Associated Press

NASA bids goodbye to planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

Launched on March 6 in 2009, the Kepler space telescope combined cutting-edge techniques in measuring stellar brightness with the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time, reported Xinhua.

Kepler discovered roughly 4,000 planets beyond the solar system, a handful of which might be Earth-size and even habitable.

Many theories and experiments aspire to transform our view of the universe, but the Kepler mission actually did so. Like its predecessor, it will roam space in search of planets orbiting around 200,000 of our galaxy's brightest stars.

The space telescope has been in space for nine years and found more than 2.6 thousand planets.

"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.

Its positioning system broke down in 2013 about four years after its launch, though scientists found a way to keep it operational. It far surpassed expectations, however, collecting data in deep space for more than nine years. The approximately $700 million spacecraft (including operations) will remain in a safe and stable orbit around the Sun forever. Kepler discovered more than 2,600 planets outside our solar system.

"The search for planets is the search for life", said Natalie Batalha, a longtime Kepler mission scientist now at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a conference in 2017.

That number includes about 50 that may be about the same size and temperature as Earth. The engineers essentially rebooted the mission, devising a way to allow Kepler to survey new parts of the sky every few months.

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Its findings indicate that billions of distant star systems are teeming with planets - perhaps trillions in the Milky Way galaxy alone.

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"Kepler opened the gate for mankind's exploration of the cosmos."

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A series of huge new terrestrial telescopes now under construction will also be able to analyze exoplanet atmospheres spectroscopically, and look for signs of life such as the presence of oxygen gas and water vapor. They and Kepler are old spacecraft far beyond their design lifetimes.

The space agency launched a newer planet seeking telescope called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, back in April. The satellite is now on its 2-year mission worth $337 million. It also unveiled incredible super Earths: planets bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

The new spacecraft will focus on nearby exoplanets, those in the range of 30 to 300 light-years away.

TESS will use a technique to find planets that's similar to Kepler's approach, yet it will be an eminently more powerful mission. TESS is essentially brand new, having just began its observation mission last month, and it's already looking very promising. "I look forward to the odd, fantastic worlds we're bound to discover". It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbor life.

However, later it turned out that Kepler-69c, more like Venus, and life on it, most likely, impossible.

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