RIP Kepler: NASA Retires Planet-Hunting Space Telescope

02 November, 2018, 09:57 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • The Kepler space telescope's end has finally come

"This is not unexpected, and this marks the end of spacecraft operations for Kepler and the end of the collection of science data". The hydrazine fuel ran out about two weeks ago, signaled by a sharp drop in pressure readings for the propulsion system.

"Because of Kepler, what we think about our place in the universe has changed", said Hertz. Kepler also characterized a class of planets that don't exist in our solar system: worlds between the sizes of Earth and Neptune, or "super-Earths".

Due to space telescope, scientists learned about the existence of supertall - planets whose mass exceeds the mass of the Earth.

Bill Borucki, the mission's retired principal investigator, compared the task to "trying to detect a flea crawling across a vehicle headlight when the auto was 100 miles away".

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, said in a statement.

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

Mission planners reworked Kepler's mode of operation to point at other parts of the sky, expanding its list of targets to 500,000 stars.

That database is large enough to allow for a statistical analysis of planetary systems.

"We're really seeing planets at a wide variety of stellar ages", Dotson said. "But now we know. that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy". The probe's camera measured changes in the brightness of 150,000 stars in one patch of sky to identify alien planets, including ones that could potentially be inhabited by humans. "Now we know there are billions of planets that are rocky like the Earth and are orbiting their stars in the habitable zone, or the Goldilocks zone, where their temperatures might be conducive to water on the surface".


There's certain to be more to come: Much of the data downloaded from the spacecraft has yet to be fully analyzed. Scientists said that Kepler's data will support further research for a decade to come.

NASA's Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

The telescope's successor, the far more powerful Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April 2018 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and is projected to discover over 20,000 new exoplanets.

It used a detection method called transit photometry, which looked for periodic, repetitive dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.

Nearly lost in 2013 because of equipment failure, Kepler was salvaged by engineers and kept peering into the cosmos, thick with stars and galaxies, ever on the lookout for dips in in the brightness of stars that could indicate an orbiting planet.

Both missions were extended past their originally anticipated lifetime because of the innovative work of their engineers and scientists.

The Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory experienced technical problems earlier this month that have since been fully repaired. TESS builds on Kepler's foundation with fresh batches of data in its search of planets orbiting some 200,000 of the brightest and nearest stars to the Earth, worlds that can later be explored for signs of life by missions such as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

There are many exoplanet-hunting missions on the horizon as well.

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