NASA says goodbye to Kepler Space Telescope

This illustration depicts NASA’s exoplanet hunter the Kepler space

This illustration depicts NASA’s exoplanet hunter the Kepler space

Its ability to point at specific regions in the cosmos worsened dramatically at the beginning of October, but flight controllers still managed to retrieve its latest observations. The telescope has now gone silent, its fuel tank empty. "It was like trying to detect a flea crossing a vehicle headlight when the auto was 100 miles away", William Borucki, the former principal investigator of Kepler, said in a press conference. Image credit: NASA / Ames / Wendy Stenzel.

Kepler discovered 2,681 planets outside our solar system and even more potential candidates. It found inferno-like gas giants, rocky planets, planets orbiting binary stars, Earth-size planets, planets in the habitable zone capable of supporting liquid water on the surface, planets twice the size of Earth, the strangely flickering Tabby's Star, new details about the TRAPPIST-1 planetsand, in December, an eight-planet system.

The telescope is now scanning 85% of the night sky, staring down distant solar systems and hunting for small, rocky, Earth-like planets in the process.

Kepler helped astronomers estimate between 20 to 50 percent of the stars we see in the night sky have planets the size of Earth around them.

"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.

The $700 million mission even helped to uncover a year ago a solar system with eight planets, just like ours.

"Now, because of Kepler, what we think about the universe has changed", NASA astrophysics division director Paul Hertz told the Verge.

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"It was like trying to detect a flea crawling across a vehicle headlight when the auto was 100 miles away", said Borucki said. The spacecraft functioned a number of years than its fuel levels permitted and helped scientists discover thousands of planet beyond our Solar System. "The Kepler spacecraft uses reaction wheels to keep its pointing, so Kepler couldn't continue in the same way", Jessie Dodson, Kepler project scientist, said in a press conference.

TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is shown in this conceptual illustration obtained by Reuters on March 28, 2018.

All the data Kepler collected has now been safely returned to Earth. TESS is essentially brand new, having just began its observation mission last month, and it's already looking very promising.

Toward the end of its first mission, two of Kepler's reaction wheels failed and the craft could no longer stabilize its instruments.

According to Borucki, Kepler has set a new course for future generations to explore our Milky Way galaxy. As Space.com notes, the spacecraft also studied "a variety of cosmic objects and phenomena, from comets and asteroids in our own solar system to faraway supernova explosions".

However, NASA said on Tuesday that Kepler has run out of fuel and will be retired.

The Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory experienced technical problems earlier this month that have since been fully repaired.

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