Published: Fri, November 02, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

NASA bids goodbye to planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

NASA bids goodbye to planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

Kepler showed us that "we live in a galaxy that's teeming with planets, and we're ready to take the next step to explore those planets", she said. Kepler was created to survey more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy to determine the number of sun-like stars that have Earth-size and larger planets, including those that lie in a star's 'habitable zone, ' a region where liquid water, and perhaps life, could exist. "Some of those, in fact, might be actual water worlds". "If life has been developing over six and a half billion years before Earth was formed, there may be some very interesting lifeforms for us to find as we search these early planets". "Imagine what life might be like on such planets".

Bill Borucki, who first dreamed up the Kepler mission and was its principal investigator until his retirement from NASA in 2015, knows many of those thousands of planets as individuals.

Based on the planets discovered by Kepler, researchers now think about 20 to 50 percent of stars in the Milky Way harbor rocky, roughly Earth-sized planets that may be able to support liquid water on their surfaces.

James Webb Space Telescope will join TESS which is a mess at this time but is supposed to be launched in 2021.

Launched atop a Delta 2 rocket on March 14, 2009, Kepler was boosted into an orbit around the sun, trailing the Earth and aiming its 95-megapixel camera at a patch of sky the size of an out-stretched hand near the constellation Cygnus that contains more than 4.5 million detectable stars.

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

. TESS is on a two-year, $337 million mission.

The spacecraft's camera was not created to take pictures like other space telescopes.

It used a detection method called transit photometry, which looked for periodic, repetitive dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.

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Bill Borucki, the mission's retired principal investigator, compared the task to "trying to detect a flea crawling across a auto headlight when the vehicle was 100 miles away". By closely analyzing how much the host star's brightness dropped and for how long, researchers can tease out characteristics of the planet such as size and orbital distance. "Science operations are over", NASA astrophysics division director Paul Hertz told reporters on a conference call.

The telescope even helped pinpoint the first moon known outside our solar system.

But all of that took rocket fuel, and last June, engineers saw a major drop in fuel tank pressure, indicating the spacecraft's tank was almost empty.

Signals that fuel was almost out were seen two weeks ago.

Kepler has finally run out of fuel. For Kepler's project system engineer at NASA Ames, Charlie Sobeck, the mission has turned the type of universe he grew up with while watching "Star Trek" into reality. "Kepler's nine-and-a-half-year flight was more than twice the original target". "It always did everything we asked of it, and sometimes more".

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, was launched in April and started sending back science data this summer. It is created to cover an area 400 times larger than Kepler could manage and is expected to find some 20,000 or more exoplanets during the course of its mission.

NASA's Kepler planet-hunting telescope now belongs to the ages, with its fuel completely spent and its instruments shut down - but the planet quest continues, thanks to a treasure trove of downloaded data as well as a new generation of robotic planet-hunters. The new mission, studying near and bright stars, was dubbed K2.

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