Tuesday, 13 November, 2018

Research: NASA retires Kepler Space Telescope

‘Goodnight, Kepler’: NASA’s Planet-Hunting Telescope Has Finally Run Out Of Fuel Research: NASA retires Kepler Space Telescope —
Cary Marshall | 02 November, 2018, 16:14

The Kepler telescope discovered more than 2,600 of the roughly 3,800 exoplanets - the term for planets outside our solar system - that have been documented in the past two decades. Now, after outliving its expected lifespan several times over, the spacecraft has finally died.

But after nine years and seven months of exploring the universe, the telescope has run out of fuel. After a while, they managed to turn it on again and gather more scientific data, knowing that soon it would be time to bid farewell to the Kepler space telescope. This enabled an extended mission for the spacecraft, dubbed K2, which lasted as long as the first mission and bumped Kepler's count of surveyed stars up to more than 500,000.

In a statement, NASA said data collected from Kepler's deep space missions indicates our sky is filled with billions of hidden planets - more than the stars.

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

In April 2013, Kepler made his most famous discovery: three exoplanets, comparable in size to Earth and located in the so-called Goldilocks zone - not too close to the parent star, but not too far from her to there could exist liquid water - and thus, perhaps, life. If the transit occurs regularly, with the same frequency, we can conclude that it is not just randomly flying past a celestial body, a planet orbiting a parent star.

"To "Kepler" we do not know how often or rare in our galaxy there are planets", - says the head of the NASA astrophysics division, Paul Hertz.

"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 Center in California's Silicon Valley.

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Astronomers were dazzled by the planets it found, including Kepler-22b, probably a water world between the size of Earth and Neptune. The approximately $700 million spacecraft (including operations) will remain in a safe and stable orbit around the Sun forever.

"Kepler opened the gate for mankind's exploration of the cosmos", said retired NASA scientist William Borucki, who led the original Kepler science team.

Kepler's data is furthering many areas such as the history of the Milky Way galaxy, and the initial stages of supernovae (exploding stars), which are studied to determine how fast our universe is expanding.

Researchers working on TESS expect to find at least 50 rocky, Earth-size worlds for scientists to scrutinize - perhaps double what Kepler has found.

However, a solution was found and in 2014 the "K2" element of the mission began, using solar pressure to help stabilize the pointing direction and observe new patches of the night sky.

Once TESS' discoveries are confirmed, they could prove vital to the work of NASA's upcoming and powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is scheduled to launch sometime in 2021. JWST will take pictures in infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes yet flawless for studying planets through the clouds of gas and dust in space that typically obscure distant worlds.

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