Published: Mon, November 05, 2018
Science | By

As NASA's Kepler Mission Comes to an End, Planetary Research Moves Forward

As NASA's Kepler Mission Comes to an End, Planetary Research Moves Forward

Closer to home, Dawn marked several firsts in robotic space exploration, including the first spacecraft to orbit two separate objects, the first to orbit any object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the first science mission to use ion propulsion, a technology that gave the spacecraft additional velocity and enabled it to orbit Vesta, then depart, travel to Ceres and enter orbit around the dwarf planet. Kepler also found nature often produces jam-packed planetary systems, in some cases with so many planets orbiting close to their parent stars that our own inner solar system looks sparse by comparison. By investigating a tiny slice of the sky, Kepler has detected light from many thousands of these stars in its view, and variations in the light received has been an indicator of planets.

"Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars", he added.

Kepler has opened our eyes to the diversity of planets that exist in our galaxy. The knowledge that there are planets scattered everywhere opens almost endless possibilities, and keeps pushing expectations for Kepler's successor TESS and other upcoming missions. We are not so alone; in fact, based on the findings of Kepler, it is now estimated that there are more planets than stars in our galaxy.

According to NASA, that means they are located at distances from their stars where liquid water, a vital ingredient for life as we know it, could accumulate on the surface of the planet. Four years into the mission, osbervations were halted by mechanical failures. "There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them".

The Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes or MAST at the Space Telescope Science Institute will make the data accumulated over almost a decade of deep space observation available to the public.

Kepler may no longer be for this world (or any other world), but the space telescope's discoveries will extend further beyond the end of its mission.

NASA stressed that "many" of the exoplanets discovered through Kepler "could be promising places for life". "I'm excited about the diverse discoveries that are yet to come from our data and how future missions will build upon Kepler's results".

An artist's concept of NASA's Kepler spacecraft. Kepler's more advanced successor is the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April.

And those high-profile finales come in the midst of a spree of other spacecraft troubles: the Opportunity rover on Mars remains silent almost five months after a planet-engulfing dust storm, and the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory were both briefly offline in October.

Like this: