The old planet-hunting telescope has just passed away, stated NASA in an official announcement on 30 October, almost 10 years after being sent to space. Kepler has performed an excellent job for the past 9 years and a half, discovering thousands of exoplanets.
The old telescope has been running low on fuel for the past months, so scientists were waiting for this moment to come, preparing to download all the data gathered in the last months. Flight controllers retrieved the latest observations, but with the empty fuel, Kepler has gone silent.
The former leader of the original Kepler science team, now a retired scientist, William Borucki, said that:
“Kepler opened the gate for mankind’s exploration of the cosmos.”
Kepler has been able to discover 2,681 planets outside our solar system and exoplanet candidates. According to the astrophysics director at NASA, Paul Hertz, Kepler also discovered a dozen planets in the Goldilocks zone that are of a similar size as our Earth:
“It has revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Now we know because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy.”
The space telescope was almost lost in 2013 when Kepler had a failure, but engineers found a way to fix it and help the mission carry on until this month. The mission was called K2 and found 350 exoplanets more than the ones uncovered since it was launched in 2009.
Two-third of the planets discovered so far are thanks to Kepler’s observations.
In its stead, NASA’s TESS has begun working on discovering other planets by using the same transiting method Kepler used, but with better and newer technology.
Padi Boyd, TESS project scientist, said that the “stunningly successful” Kepler mission showed them that “we live in a galaxy that’s teeming with planets, and we’re ready to take the next step to explore those planets.”
Kepler is 94 million miles away from Earth, and it will continue to remain in a stable orbit around the sun.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.