After finding thousands of planets, NASA’s Kepler mission ends


There two vastly different NASA spacecraft are about to run out of fuel: The Kepler spacecraft, which spent nine years in deep space collecting data that detected thousands of planets orbiting stars outside our solar system; and the Dawn spacecraft, which spent 11 years orbiting and studying the main asteroid belt's two largest objects, Vesta and Ceres.

"In the end, we didn't have a drop of fuel left over for anything else", Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center, said during a teleconference.

The successor of the telescope is far more powerful Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) which was launched in 2018 April a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and is projected to discover over 20,000 new exoplanets. Professor Lewis Dartnell from the University Of Westminster discusses Kepler's legacy.

"We have shown that there are more planets than stars in our galaxy", Borucki said.

Kepler was NASA's first planet-hunting mission, and it opened our eyes to the diversity of planets that exist in our galaxy and elsewhere.

"Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that's full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy", said Borucki. Scientists are expected to spend over a decade making new discoveries in the treasure trove of data Kepler provided.

Several of them are rocky and Earth-sized in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone of a star - an orbit where temperatures are neither too cold nor too hot, but just right for the existence of water, which is considered a key ingredient for life.

In 2012, Kepler completed its primary mission and was awarded an extension.

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Since it launched in March 2009, the telescope identified over 2,600 planets outside of our solar system, and found that as much as half of the stars visible from Earth could be surrounded by small, rocky, Earth-like planets.

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

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.

Kepler hands off the baton to TESS now, NASA said. 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.

Nasa has experienced a series of spacecraft problems lately.

Goodbye, Kepler. And though you may be drifting in the dark tens of millions of miles away from your homeworld, you showed that the cosmos may not be so lonely, and your contributions will not be forgotten. The sequence of commands for doing so has been transmitted to the spacecraft, awaiting a final command from the ground to run them.

During its nine-year mission, Kepler found more than 2,600 planets orbiting stars outside the solar system -including many with the potential for harboring life. Researchers used these observations to then search for periodic dimming events around each star, which indicates an exoplanet has passed in front of the star. "There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them". Starting in 2014, this new mission was dubbed K2.