Nasa declares elite planet-hunting spacecraft dead

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a file image the US space agency's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel and is being retired after nine years

It is noted that the reason for the mission was the lack of fuel. During the near-decade of its life, Kepler found evidence of more than 2,600 planets located beyond our solar system.

The most recent analysis of Kepler's discoveries concludes that 20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars.

It's the pioneering telescope which, for those of us on Earth, filled the galaxy with planets.

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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, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

"We have shown there are more planets than stars in our galaxy, that many of these planets are roughly the size of the Earth and some, like the Earth, are at the right distance from their star that there could be liquid water on the surface, a situation conducive to the existence of life", Borucki said.

Kepler's discoveries have shed a new light on mankind's place in the Universe.

Officials announced the Kepler Space Telescope's demise on Tuesday.

The driving force behind Kepler was Bill Borucki, the now-retired principal investigator for the mission at NASA Ames.

Thanks to Kepler's data, which was all safely beamed back to Earth before the end of the mission, we now know that planets are, in fact, exceedingly common.

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

Four years into the mission-after all primary objectives were met-mechanical failures temporarily halted Kepler's observations. The new mission, studying near and bright stars, was dubbed K2. In all, Kepler surveyed more than 500,000 stars. And who knows, Kepler may have already discovered a planet that is harboring life, we just need a more detailed view to spot it.

Kepler confirmed a trove of 2,681 planets outside our solar system. Take, for example, Kepler-22b, which he calls one of the most interesting planets in the batch.

This artist's concept obtained October 30, 2018, courtesy of NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle shows Kepler-186f, the first Earth-size planet in the habitable zone.

And those discoveries have helped shape future missions.

The heir to Kepler, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April and started science observations this summer. "That was an awesome diving catch", said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters.

When it comes to the planet quest, the next big thing on the horizon is the James Webb Space Telescope, which is now due for launch in 2021 and may be able to look for signs of life in the atmospheres of alien planets. It's also illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars. Borucki sought to develop what ultimately became Kepler for decades, eventually convincing NASA that a space telescope that could perform precise photometry of thousands of stars, needed to detect the brightness variations caused by transits, was feasible.

Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA Headquarters, said the Kepler mission "revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos". The spacecraft itself is fine, by all accounts; rather, it no longer has any fuel left to continue powering its operations.

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