Published: Mon, November 05, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope, Passes Planet-Hunting Torch

NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope, Passes Planet-Hunting Torch

Yes, after nine years exploring deep space, NASA's spacecraft and telescope will now be another piece of historical space junk.

Scientists were surprised by evidence that Ceres could be geologically active, has chemistry that could support life, and may harbor a subsurface ocean or may have harbored one in its past.

Both missions can be described as having put scientists a step closer in the search for extraterrestrial life, and data sets from both will continue to provide scientists with discoveries for many years.

An artist's concept of NASA's Kepler spacecraft. TESS's observing pattern, rather than staring at a single part of the sky, will scan almost the entire sky with overlapping fields of view (much like the petals on a flower).Duration of TESS's observations on the celestial sphere, taking into account the overlap between sectors.(Graphic: Nasa) Given what we learned from Kepler, astronomers expect TESS to find thousands more planetary systems. Before Kepler, we had discovered just a few hundred exoplanets, but the technology of the Kepler, allowed scientists to add more than 2,600 exoplanets to our databases.

"When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago we didn't know of a single planet outside our solar system", said the Kepler mission's founding principal investigator, William Borucki. To date, Kepler has discovered a total of 2,818 exoplanets and another 2,679 candidates waiting for further explorations. By surveying the whole sky, we will find systems that orbit stars 10 times closer and 100 times brighter than those found by Kepler-opening up new possibilities for measuring planet masses and densities, studying their atmospheres, characterizing their host stars, and establishing the full nature of the systems in which the planets reside.

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered everything from a cosmic bat shadow to a skull and crossbones nebula, so among all the spooky images it's nice to spot a friendly face.

Kepler has opened our eyes to the diversity of planets that exist in our galaxy. Kepler showed 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", NASA said in a statement. The second phase of Kepler's mission was called K2 and the discoveries in this extended mission further improved our understanding of planets and planetary systems.

These planets are within the habitable zone of their stars and may have liquid water. Meaning it found more planets lurking out there than even stars. Indeed, one challenge for astronomers who want to study the properties of Kepler planets is that Kepler itself is often the best instrument to use.

Planet stalking Kepler space telescope meets its end.

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