NASA bids goodbye to planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a file image the US space agency's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel and is being retired after nine years

The US Kepler Space Telescope has run out of fuel and is being retired after a nine and a half year mission during which it discovered more than 2,600 planets outside the Solar System, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said on Wednesday.

NASA's legendary Kepler space telescope, which is responsible for the discovery of thousands of freaky and intriguing exoplanets, has officially run out of fuel.

"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.

NASA has tallied the number of exoplanets that Kepler has discovered at 2,681.

As Dr Andrew Rushby, a former scientist at NASA's Ames Research Centre told ten daily earlier this year, one of Kepler's greatest contributions was the concept there are more planets than stars in our galaxy. 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.

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, some mechanical failures temporarily halted observations.

Paul Hertz, NASA astrophysics division director said, "Now, because of Kepler, what we think about the universe has changed, Kepler opened the gate for the exploration of the cosmos".

The unmanned space telescope, which launched in 2009, revealed that there are billions of hidden planets in space and revolutionized humanity's understanding of the universe.

He said Kepler showed mankind how many planets might be out there.

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Kepler has finally run out of fuel.

NASA scientists are expected to spend the next decade trawling through data provided by Kepler in search of new discoveries.

Kepler was succeeded by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which was launched in April on a two-year mission. "It was like trying to detect a flea crawling across a vehicle headlight, when the auto was 100 miles away", William Borucki, retired Kepler principal investigator said in a press conference today.

This discovery means these exoplanets are located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water - a vital ingredient to life as we know it - might exist on the planet surface. He's excited for what we may one day learn about the Kepler-444 system in particular, he said. Rather, it served as a sensitive photometer, continuously measuring the brightness of stars in its wide field of view, on the lookout for the tell-tale dimming that occurs when a planet passes in front of its sun as viewed from Earth.

Astronomers were dazzled by the planets it found, including Kepler-22b, probably a water world between the size of Earth and Neptune.

Kepler's originally planned $640 million mission went far longer than anticipated, thanks in part to a spacecraft-saving fix that was made in 2013 when a crucial part of the probe's fine-pointing system went out of commission.

Though Kepler was certainly technologically advanced for its time, it hunted planets in a surprisingly straightforward manner. They convinced their peers and they convinced NASA that this was a mission that had to be done.

As we prepare to say goodbye to these two record-breaking missions, we rejoice in the fact that discoveries will still arise from their data decades into the future.

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