Kepler laid the foundation for the next big "planet hunter" developed by NASA.
Unfortunately the last five years of Kepler's exploits were hindered by malfunctioning reaction wheels, limiting the number of target stars that the space telescope could be directed towards. 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. The engineers essentially rebooted the mission, devising a way to allow Kepler to survey new parts of the sky every few months.
Kepler is now making orbits around the sun, at a distance of 94 million miles from Earth.
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. "We expected to find more Jupiters", but instead the most common size is between that of Earth and Neptune, of which there are none in our solar system.
Now that it has no fuel, the telescope can't correct its very specific orbit, so it is drifting farther and farther from our planet.
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William Borucki, the Kepler mission's founding principal investigator said, "When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago, we didn't know of a single planet outside our solar system". "Many are still hiding in the data, ready to be discovered", said Susan Mullally, a scientist working on the Kepler mission at STScI.
Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. Some of its latest activity will also aid the TESS mission, whose exoplanet search is focused on 200,000 of the brightest and closest stars to Earth. However, all of Kepler's data has been and will continue to be publicly available at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) through the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) where it will continue to improve our understanding of the universe. The distinction helped scientists zero in on potential Earth-like planets and better the odds for finding life. It is an effort that will define the next half-century of Nasa science, as a new generation of spacecraft and instruments searches for signs of life on the ocean worlds orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, in the sands of Mars and on the rocky worlds that are now known to orbit nearby suns. They and Kepler are old spacecraft far beyond their design lifetimes.
"Kepler opened the gate for mankind's exploration of the cosmos."". At first, scientists didn't discover many exoplanets, but in just a short time, Kepler discovered thousands of exoplanets. The first data from TESS is already being sent to Earth and analyzed.
"While this may be a sad event, we are by no means unhappy with the performance of this marvelous machine", Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told reporters on a conference call.
So what now? Several exoplanet-hunting missions are in the works, according to MIT Technology Review, including the James Webb Space Telescope, which is now due to launch in 2021 after a series of delays. "I'm excited about the diverse discoveries that are yet to come from our data and how future missions will build upon Kepler's results".