Published: Fri, November 02, 2018
Science | By

The scientists said that they had managed to make a telescope "Kepler"

The scientists said that they had managed to make a telescope

NASA's Kepler space telescope is done with its work collecting astounding science data showing there are more planets than stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. Already well past its expected lifetime, the 9-year-old Kepler had been running low on fuel for months. 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.

In its nine years in space, Kepler helped scientists spot potential planets by observing transits, or the moment when a space object passes in front of a star.

"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", Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement. "Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm".

NASAAn illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) detecting potentially habitable alien worlds.

The planet-hunting spacecraft, credited with discovering thousands of exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, will be retired and left in its current orbit, a safe distance from Earth, NASA announced Tuesday. Unlike Kepler, TESS will search the entire sky, with a primary focus on planets within 300 light years from Earth. According to NASA, TESS will divide the sky into 26 sectors to observe each one for at least 27 days.

Mission scientists anxious that the spacecraft may have been irreparably rendered ineffective after the steering malfunction in 2012, though they eventually came up with an ingenious solution in 2013 using pressure generated by the sun's rays to compensate for a failed reaction wheel and aim it at observation targets.

Astronomers were dazzled by the planets it found, including Kepler-22b, probably a water world between the size of Earth and Neptune.

The observation of so many stars has allowed scientists to better understand stellar behaviors and properties, which is critical information in studying the planets that orbit them.

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", said Kepler project scientist Dr. Jessie Dotson, of NASA's Ames Research Center. "It was like trying to detect a flea crossing a vehicle headlight when the auto was 100 miles away", William Borucki, the former principal investigator of Kepler, said in a press conference. It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbor life. They dubbed this new mission K2, which found another 354 planets, with 473 additional candidates awaiting confirmation today. NASA says Kepler's mission may be over but its discoveries will be studied for years to come.

The far more advanced James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to lift off in 2021, should be able to reveal more about planets' mass, density and the makeup of their atmosphere - all clues to habitability.

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