The Kepler Space Telescope Is Dead

  • The Kepler Space Telescope Is Dead

The Kepler Space Telescope Is Dead

Nasa has declared its elite planet-hunting spacecraft dead.

After nine years and more than 2,600 planet discoveries, NASA's Kepler space telescope is entering retirement.

Working in deep space for nine years, Kepler discovered planets from outside the solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.

Its ability to point at specific regions in the cosmos worsened dramatically at the beginning of October, but flight controllers still managed to retrieve its latest observations. The telescope has now gone silent, its fuel tank empty.

Kepler showed that "20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars", Nasa said in a statement.

By staring down stars, Kepler also unveiled incredible super Earths: planets bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

Launched in March 2009, the space observatory (named after astronomer Johannes Kepler) was created to assess some 150,000 stars in the constellation Cygnus.

The telescope's findings indicate that distant star systems are populated with billions of planets, and it even helped pinpoint the first moon known outside our solar system.

NASA's most prolific planet-hunter is powering down after almost a decade of revealing the diversity of our galaxy's planets.

"In the end, we didn't have a drop of fuel left over for anything else", Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center, said during a teleconference. Kepler was created to survey more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy to determine the number of sun-like stars that have Earth-size and larger planets, including those that lie in a star's 'habitable zone, ' a region where liquid water, and perhaps life, could exist. "Before we launched Kepler, we didn't know if planets were common or rare in our galaxy".

Inside the Hazardous Processing Facility at Astrotech in Titusville, Fla., NASA's Kepler spacecraft is placed on a stand for fueling.

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 U.S. space agency said.

In all, close to 4,000 exoplanets have been confirmed over the past two decades, two-thirds of them thanks to Kepler.

"Because of Kepler, what we think about our place in the universe has changed", said Hertz.

"We have shown that there are more planets than stars in our galaxy", Borucki said.

Kepler was NASA's first planet hunting mission, one it didn't expect to last as long as it did.

Such data has allowed scientists to better interpret stellar behavior and properties-critical to the study of stars and the planets that orbit them.

As of today, Kepler has detected 2,681 confirmed planets, plus 2,899 other candidates yet to be confirmed, said Kepler project scientist Jessie Dotson. Depending on assumptions, the mission identified somewhere around two to 12 potentially habitable rocky planets.

NASA's 11-year-old Dawn spacecraft is pretty much out of fuel after orbiting the asteroid Vesta as well as the dwarf planet Ceres.

Now 94 million miles from Earth, Kepler should remain in a safe, stable orbit around the sun. Borucki sought to develop what ultimately became Kepler for decades, eventually convincing NASA that a space telescope that could perform precise photometry of thousands of stars, needed to detect the brightness variations caused by transits, was feasible.