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NASA declares dead elite planet-hunting spacecraft
02 November 2018, 11:41 | Justin Tyler
Kepler telescope dead after finding thousands of worldsMore
"Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars".
"As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond", Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in DC, said in the NASA statement.
The space telescope was nearly lost in 2013 when Kepler had a failure, but engineers found a way to fix it and help the mission carry on until this month.
Kepler's retirement marks just the beginning of a quest to end humankind's cosmic loneliness.
Scientists are expected to spend at least another decade searching for more discoveries buried in the pile of photometric data that Kepler has captured. 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. Hertz said that NASA does not provide any definitive list of how numerous planets discovered by Kepler might be Earth-like, but a scientific paper published several years ago listed 30.
NASA originally launched the telescope in 2009 for a one-year planet-hunting mission.
In doing so, Kepler discovered thousands of planets beyond the solar system - a handful of which might be Earth-size and possibly habitable to alien life.
Kepler combined cutting-edge techniques in measuring stellar brightness with the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time. The two Kepler missions discovered and confirmed the existence of 2,681 planets in all. As an astronomical passing of the baton, in the last month of Kepler's mission, both TESS and Kepler simultaneously observed over a hundred of the same stars.
"When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago we didn't know of a single planet outside our solar system", said retired Kepler mission's founding principal investigator, William Borucki. During its time, it discovered 2,600 planets.
Kepler showed us that "we live in a galaxy that's teeming with planets, and we're ready to take the next step to explore those planets", she said.
Four years into the mission, the main goals had been met, but mechanical failures put a sudden end to future observations. This second phase of Kepler's science program was called the K2 mission.
A successor to Kepler launched in April, NASA'sTess spacecraft, has its sights on stars closer to home.
"While this may be a sad event, we are by no means unhappy with the performance of this marvelous machine". The data provided by Kepler has also helped the researchers come up with a new method of accessing if a planet comprised of a solid surface, such as Mars and Earth or gaseous such as Saturn and Jupiter. "These results will form the basis for future searches for life".
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