NASA chose to stop the mission of the Kepler telescope

Katie Ramirez
November 2, 2018

Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond, said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "I had no trouble believing that there were planets out there of all different kinds, so I had to wonder, why did it affect me so much when Kepler showed that there were lots of planets out there everywhere?" he said during the news conference.

The Kepler space telescope of NASA which discovered 2,700 exoplanets distant star systems is now officially retired after running out of fuel. But more important, Kepler was the first NASA mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of other stars.

"The Kepler mission has been an enormous success", said Bill Borucki, the original Kepler principal investigator and leader of the team that convinced NASA to build and launch the $692 million mission in 2009. 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. A new planet-hunter, named TESS, was launched in April and Kepler has been left drifting around the Sun more than a hundred-and-fifty-million kilometres from Earth. Kepler also found nature often produces jam-packed planetary systems, in some cases with so many planets orbiting close to their parent stars that our own inner solar system looks sparse by comparison.

A replacement: Several exoplanet-hunting missions are in the works, including the James Webb Space Telescope, now due to launch in 2021 after a series of delays.

The spacecraft, which is now orbiting the sun 94 million miles (156 million kilometers) from Earth, will drift further from our planet when mission engineers turn off its radio transmitters, the USA space agency said.

"But what was just as unbelievable to me was the implications, contacts, and conversations I had over the years with others about religion, life, the universe, and our home planet Earth", Howell added. Only Kepler has discovered more than 2.6 thousand planets outside the Solar system. It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbour life.

"We saw it drop from 90 psi [pounds per square inch] all the way down to 25 psi" over a few hours, said Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer for Kepler at NASA's Ames Research Center.

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Four years into the mission, the main goals had been met, but mechanical failures put a sudden end to future observations.

Kepler no longer had the ability to keep itself pointed in one direction after it lost the use of two reaction wheels in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, NASA announced the K2 "Second Light" extension, which increased the telescope's surveyed star count to more than 500,000.

Kepler confirmed a trove of 2,681 planets outside our solar system.

Tess will mainly scout for planets in the Goldilocks zone of a star.

Kepler has revolutionised our understanding of the universe.

Kepler hands off the baton to TESS now, NASA said. Though the solution did not restore full functionality that's why Kepler could only aim itself for around 83 days at a time but made another phase of operations possible.

Nasa says Kepler's mission may be over but its discoveries will be studied for years to come.

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