NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope, Passes Planet-Hunting Torch

05 November, 2018, 15:11 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • NASA image of Kepler

High-quality data from ground-based telescopes requires long observations on the largest telescopes-precious resources that limit the number of planets that can be observed.We now know that there are at least as many planets in the galaxy as there are stars, and many of those planets are quite unlike what we have here in the solar system. It can see stars shake and vibrate; it can see starspots and flares; and, in favorable situations, it can see planets as small as the moon.Kepler's thousands of discoveries revolutionized our understanding of planets and planetary systems.

Kepler, which launched in 2009, discovered 2,600 of the 4,000 confirmed exoplanets now known. 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. Now, however, Kepler's fantastic journey came to an end, many upcoming missions are waiting in the wings and will take over the exoplanet search.

TESS builds on Kepler's foundation with fresh batches of data in its search of planets orbiting some 2,00,000 of the brightest and nearest stars to the Earth. Some of these include rocky planets in their stars' habitable zones, where temperatures allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces.

"The Kepler mission was based on a very innovative design". Four years into the mission, osbervations were halted by mechanical failures. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. While spacecraft operations have ceased, its data will continue to be publicly available through the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) at the Space Telescope Science Institute. This will allow scientists to make new discoveries even if Kepler's mission has officially ended.

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This image was spotted as part of Hubble mission to better understand how new stars are born.

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", says, Kepler's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Jessie Dotson.

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 replaced by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which was launched in April. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

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