Published: Fri, November 02, 2018
Science | By Patricia Jimenez

NASA retires its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

NASA retires its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

'Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm.

NASA launched the Kepler telescope on March 6, 2009, to learn if Earth-like planets that might harbour life are common or rare in other star systems. "Now we know because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy".

Kepler allowed astronomers to discover that 20% to 50% of the stars we can see in the night sky are likely to have small, rocky, Earth-size planets within their habitable zones - which means that liquid water could pool on the surface, and life as we know it could exist on these planets.

Earlier this year, it became clear that the Kepler Space Telescope was running low on fuel - NASA has since been planning a replacement to take over the iconic satellite's ongoing search for exoplanets.

In addition to the confirmed exoplanets it discovered Kepler found an additional 2,900 candidates awaiting vetting, many of which could be confirmed.

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

More news: Meghan Markle's 'Casual' Habit Could Get Her in Royal Trouble

Now orbiting the sun 94 million miles (156 million km) from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet when mission engineers turn off its radio transmitters, the USA space agency said. It is a possible "water world" the size of Earth perhaps covered with oceans and with a water-based atmosphere.

"Because of Kepler, we know that planets are an incredibly diverse set of objects, much more diverse than we observe in our own solar system", Hertz said.

Jessie Dotson, Kepler project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, said, "I guess I feel like it was the little spacecraft that could".

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

Kepler has studied more than 500,000 stars in this way.

Kepler found over two-third of the roughly 3,800 exoplanets that have been documented in the past two decades.

More news: Mattis says in close contact with European allies on INF treaty

Kepler was able to detect light from stars, but NASA is also studying plans for space observatories that are capable of detecting light from planets.

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". As of October 29, Kepler had detected 2,681 exoplanets, with an additional 2,899 exoplanet candidates awaiting confirmation, said Jessie Dotson, Kepler project scientist at NASA Ames. In the lead-up to its impending retirement, "scientists pushed Kepler to its full potential" by preemptively powering down the spacecraft several times to extend its lifespan. "The Kepler spacecraft may now be retired, but the Kepler data will continue to yield scientific discoveries for years to come".

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.

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

Borucki, who dreamed up the mission decades ago, said one of his favourite discoveries was Kepler 22b, a water planet bigger than Earth but where it is not too warm and not too cold - the type "that could lead to life". Science operations resumed in 2014, kicking off an extended mission known as K2.

More news: Khashoggi's fiancee calls on Trump to prevent 'coverup'

Like this: