Kepler Telescope is Dead after Finding Thousands of Alien Worlds

Olive Hawkins
November 5, 2018

We are not so alone; in fact, based on the findings of Kepler, it is now estimated that there are more planets than stars in our galaxy. The fixes actually extended the life of the spacecraft, and allowed Kepler to survey more than 500,000 stars.

NASA launched the Kepler telescope on March 6, 2009, in a bid to find out if Earth-like planets that may harbour life are common or rare in other star systems. "Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalising mysteries and possibilities among the stars". The European Space Agency is now testing the CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite (Cheops), which will accurately measure the density of planets around other stars to determine if they are rocky planets like Earth.

"The search for exoplanets using the Kepler data is still underway". I joined the Kepler science team in 2008 (as a wide-eyed rookie), eventually co-chairing the group studying the motions of the planets with Jack Lissauer.Originally, the mission was planned to last for three and a half years with possible extensions for as long as the fuel, or the camera, or the spacecraft lasted. That means they're located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water - a vital ingredient to life as we know it - might pool on the planet surface.

But the mission was not without its hiccups - in 2013, mechanical failures stopped Kepler's observations. An entirely new class of planets not present in our solar system, super-Earths with sizes between those of Earth and Neptune, is one of Kepler's most significant discoveries.

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This image was spotted as part of Hubble mission to better understand how new stars are born. Scientists are expected to spend a decade or more in search of new discoveries in the treasure trove of data Kepler provided.

And those high-profile finales come in the midst of a spree of other spacecraft troubles: the Opportunity rover on Mars remains silent almost five months after a planet-engulfing dust storm, and the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory were both briefly offline in October. Kepler's demise was "not unexpected and this marks the end of spacecraft operations", said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA, on a conference call with reporters.

Before retiring the spacecraft, scientists pushed Kepler to its full potential, successfully completing multiple observation campaigns and downloading valuable science data even after initial warnings of low fuel.

NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

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