Planet Stalking Kepler Space Telescope Meets Its End

NASA image of star cluster discovered by Kepler

Kepler has retired from finding exoplanets that are orbiting distant stars, but the troves of data it has collected over the years will continue to help astronomers.

An artist's concept of NASA's Kepler spacecraft. The agency announced on October 30, 2018, that Kepler has run out of fuel and is being retired within its current and safe orbit, away from Earth. Engineers on both missions knew their ends were looming, since they could calculate remaining fuel estimates.

The US space agency announced this week that it had made a decision to retire the telescope within its "current, safe orbit, away from Earth".

"As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond", said Thomas Zurbuchen from NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. TESS's observing pattern, rather than staring at a single part of the sky, will scan almost the entire sky with overlapping fields of view (much like the petals on a flower).Duration of TESS's observations on the celestial sphere, taking into account the overlap between sectors.(Graphic: Nasa) Given what we learned from Kepler, astronomers expect TESS to find thousands more planetary systems. In the years since, astronomers have used Kepler observations to discover 2,818 exoplanets as well as another 2,679 exoplanet candidates which need further confirmation. Called the transit method, Kepler would be able to spot an exoplanet if it saw a star momentarily dim, signifying a celestial body had crossed in front of the star.

Thanks to Kepler, the study of exoplanets has seen a remarkable boost in the past decade. 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.

Kepler became the most effective exoplanet hunter thanks to its powerful ability to keep a close watch on light emission patterns from thousands of stars in the Milky Way.

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"Now that we know that planets are everywhere, Kepler has put us on a new path full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy", said the veteran NASA researcher.

But the mission was not without its hiccups - in 2013, mechanical failures stopped Kepler's observations. However, the spacecraft was repurposed and saved by changing its field of view periodically.

"The Kepler mission was based on a very innovative design".

NASA's TESS spacecraft in the cleanroom at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, before its April 18, 2018, flight.

Launched in 2009, Kepler observed 530,506 stars and discovered more than 2600 confirmed planets.

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