NASA's Kepler telescope retires after finding thousands of worlds


The Kepler space telescope of NASA will soon be retired after successfully providing information on several new planets outside the solar system in nine years and six months informed the U.S. space agency on Tuesday. Scientists credit it for changing the way they think about other worlds that may be visited someday. Now, Nasa's hashtag "moreplanetsthanstars" says it all: the universe is home to more planets than stars, with billions of potentially habitable planets just in our own galaxy. NASA has chose to retire the spacecraft, and it will now continue its current orbit around the sun for eternity. Plus, NASA's newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launched in April and has already identified two potential life-sustaining planets.

Nearly lost in 2013 because of equipment failure, Kepler was salvaged by engineers and kept peering into the cosmos, thick with stars and galaxies, ever on the lookout for dips in in the brightness of stars that could indicate an orbiting planet. 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.

Borucki described his favourite exoplanet, located more than 600 light years from Earth and first spotted by the telescope in 2009, named Kepler 22B.

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.

Kepler focused on stars thousands of light-years away and, according to NASA, showed that statistically there's at least one planet around every star in our Milky Way galaxy.

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"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", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "We expected to find more Jupiters", but instead the most common size is between that of Earth and Neptune, of which there are none in our solar system.

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.

"The Kepler mission was based on a very innovative design". The 28-year-old Hubble Space Telescope resumed science observations last weekend, following a three-week shutdown.

If you've read anything about newly discovered exoplanets over the past decade there's a really good chance the discovery was made by the Kepler space telescope.

"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 Centre in California's Silicon Valley. "Repeatable performance is critical, as Kepler will have to make measurements of a star's brightness and then return to it perhaps a year later to take another brightness measurement", he explained. "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". It is an effort that will define the next half-century of Nasa science, as a new generation of spacecraft and instruments searches for signs of life on the ocean worlds orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, in the sands of Mars and on the rocky worlds that are now known to orbit nearby suns.