NASA's Kepler mission has come to an end

Artist's depiction of Kepler Space Telescope and exoplanets circling distant stars. On Tuesday October 30 it was announced that Kepler had run out of fuel Image Credit NASA

Artist's depiction of Kepler Space Telescope and exoplanets circling distant stars. On Tuesday October 30 it was announced that Kepler had run out of fuel Image Credit NASA

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.

Nasa's retired principal investigator for the Kepler mission, Bill Borucki, described it as an "enormous success". When scientists factored those finds into statistical formulas that take Kepler's limitations into account, they concluded that 20 to 50 percent of the Milky Way's stars may have rocky planets in habitable zones. "But now we know, because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission, that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy". "Some of those, in fact, might be actual water worlds". In that time, it has spotted thousands of exoplanet candidates and shown us that planets are rather ubiquitous, outnumbering stars in our galaxy. "Imagine what life might be like on such planets". "Basically, Kepler opened the gate for mankind's exploration of the cosmos", Borucki said. "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". Kepler was created to survey more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy to determine the number of sun-like stars that have Earth-size and larger planets, including those that lie in a star's 'habitable zone, ' a region where liquid water, and perhaps life, could exist.

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has run out of fuel, and its mission has come to an end 94 million miles from Earth, the agency announced Tuesday.

Kepler discovered thousands of planets, many of them similar in size to the Earth (far right), though how they might appear is still a matter of speculation.

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

The spacecraft's camera was not created to take pictures like other space telescopes.

Kepler helped astronomers measure potential planets by glimpsing transits, or moments when planets passed in front of their stars.

"It was like trying to detect a flea crawling across a auto headlight when the vehicle was 100 miles away", said Borucki said.

"Because of Kepler, we know that planets are an incredibly diverse set of objects, much more diverse than we observe in our own solar system", Hertz said. Like Kepler, TESS looks for very small, periodic dips in brightness of stars caused when planets pass in front of, or transit, those stars.

The Kepler Space Telescope has discovered an array of planets that scientists never imagined existed during its missions that last more than nine years Image Credit GFycat

On July 14, 2012, one of the reaction wheels failed, leaving the spacecraft without a backup.

An artist's impression of a solar system found by the Kepler space telescope. The spacecraft had been in what NASA called a "no-fuel-use" safe mode since it was contacted by controllers October 19.

Signals that fuel was almost out were seen two weeks ago.

Engineers managed to downlink all the final science data stored aboard the spacecraft before control was lost. "While this may be a sad event, we're by no means unhappy with the performance of this marvelous machine".

Kepler's nine-and-a-half-year flight was more than twice as long as originally planned. "It always did everything we asked of it, and sometimes more".

Kepler was succeeded by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which was launched in April on a two-year mission. It is created to cover an area 400 times larger than Kepler could manage and is expected to find some 20,000 or more exoplanets during the course of its mission.

"I think we were all extremely impressed with what it was doing for us", Borucki said of Kepler.

The end came just a few months shy of the 10th anniversary of Kepler's 2009 launch.

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