NASA Bids Goodbye to Planet-Hunting Kepler Space Telescope



According to Gizmodo, NASA announced on Tuesday that the Kepler Space Telescope has officially been retired almost a decade after its launch.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said Kepler "wildly exceeded all our expectations" and "sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm..." After nine-and-a-half years in orbit, 530,506 stars observed and 2,662 planets around other stars discovered, the Kepler telescope will be left to drift forever around the sun.

Watch to find out about its incredible journey.

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. Kepler's demise was "not unexpected and this marks the end of spacecraft operations", said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA, on a conference call with reporters. The situation got even worse the next year, and engineers feared they would need to bid farewell to the Kepler space telescope then. Originally only created to operate for around three and a half years, the spacecraft ultimately spent over nine and a half years in operation.

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. The new mission, studying near and bright stars, was dubbed K2. Kepler watched the very beginning of exploding stars, or supernovae, to gain unprecedented insight about stars and witnessed the death of a solar system.

"We have shown there are more planets than stars in our galaxies".

Kepler combined cutting-edge techniques in measuring stellar brightness with the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time. Sent aloft in 2009, Kepler discovered some 5,580 possible planets by staring intently at the stars in a tiny patch of the Milky Way. Scientists will spend "a decade or more in search of new discoveries in the treasure trove of data Kepler provided". But engineers discovered it was running low on fuel earlier this summer and extracted the last of the data before the telescope's mission ended.

"Kepler has truly opened a new vista in astronomy", said William Borucki, a physicist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, who led the Kepler mission until his retirement in 2015.

Now orbiting some 156 million kilometres from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet after its retirement, the United States space agency said. Recently, the MAST archive team won a NASA Group award for their work in hosting the Kepler data sets.

Space Agency NASA officially terminates the space telescope Kepler.

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

The far more advanced James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to lift off in 2021, should be able to reveal more about planets' mass, density and the makeup of their atmosphere - all clues to habitability. "These results will form the basis for future searches for life".

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