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Spacewatch: Nasa retires planet hunter after it runs out of fuel

05 November 2018

The spacecraft, with a 1.4-meter diameter telescope, discovered almost 3000 exoplanets and many potential candidates that are still awaiting confirmation.

NASA's prolific Kepler Space Telescope has run out of fuel, agency officials announced on October 30, 2018.

Also, Kepler made the first recognition of planets in our galaxy and became the first mission of the USA space agency to detect planets the size of the Earth in the habitable zones of their stars.

The Kepler Space Telescope and the Dawn mission to Ceres and Vesta both lasted approximately a decade and yielded groundbreaking data about habitability, stellar systems, and the search for life beyond Earth.

"It not only showed us how many planets could be out there, but it also generated a whole new field of research".

"Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars", he added. This puts the dwarf planet in the growing category of ocean worlds being discovered in our solar system that could potentially host microbial life.

Between 20 and 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky likely have rocky Earth-sized planets orbiting in their habitable zones, Kepler found.

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According to NASA, that means they are located at distances from their stars where liquid water, a vital ingredient for life as we know it, could accumulate on the surface of the planet.

When Kepler was still being brainstormed by NASA 35 years ago, there was no proof of any planets beyond our solar system. Indeed, one challenge for astronomers who want to study the properties of Kepler planets is that Kepler itself is often the best instrument to use.

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. Herz noted that scientific work is a space Observatory is complete. By investigating a tiny slice of the sky, Kepler has detected light from many thousands of these stars in its view, and variations in the light received has been an indicator of planets. The data from the extended mission were also made available to the public and science community immediately, allowing discoveries to be made at an incredible pace and setting a high bar for other missions.

Kepler may no longer be for this world (or any other world), but the space telescope's discoveries will extend further beyond the end of its mission. Many of these planets could be promising places for life.

Both spacecraft used chemical fuel to twist themselves back toward Earth and beam their findings home; without that fuel there was no way to learn from our distant emissaries.

Kepler was succeeded by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which was launched in April for a two-year, $337 million (€295 million) mission.

To replace the "Kepler" will come infrared telescope James Webb, which will be launched in March 2021.

Spacewatch: Nasa retires planet hunter after it runs out of fuel