NASA’s planet-searching space telescope is out of fuel. The premier Kepler space telescope is unable to search for planets that orbit other stars which ended the 9 and a half year mission. NASA’s officials announced the unfortunate news on 30 October 2018.
“Due to fuel exhaustion, the world-renowned spacecraft has unfortunately reached the end of its life,” stated Charlie Sobeck, a NASA project system engineer situated in Moffett Field, Calif. “Although this is an unfortunate event, we are quite satisfied with this remarkable machine.”
The discoveries made by the Kepler space telescope managed to change the way astronomers think when it comes to planets in other solar systems. Prior to the launch of the spacecraft in 2009, there were only 350 known exoplanets existing in the galaxy, and most of them were about the size of Jupiter.
As of 30 October 2018, there are over 3,800 exoplanets, and the Kepler space telescope managed to discover 2,720 of them. The Kepler spacecraft located planets in all configurations, shapes, and sizes: seven planets orbiting one star, planets with two suns, planets that orbit at jaunty angles, and planets that are much older than Earth. “Some planets were formed when the galaxy was created,” said William Borucki, who was the principal advisor for Kepler before he decided to retire in 2015. “Can you imagine what life is like on these planets?”
What’s even more impressive is that astronomers believe that each of the hundreds of billions of stars found in the Milky Way have a minimum of one planet and the temperatures and sizes of these exoplanets might be friendly to life.
The space telescope was initially launched in 2009. Towards the end of 2017, Kepler managed to discover over 2,500 planets. These planets range in sizes with some comparable to Earth while others are the size of Neptune and Jupiter and larger.
The Kepler space telescope was previously declared dead. In 2013, the famous spacecraft lost the use of one of its four reaction wheels. These wheels assist the spacecraft to point steadily at a certain patch of the sky. The consistent pointing was vital for Kepler’s planet-searching strategy. It initially seemed that the quest was over.
However, engineers managed to revive the space telescope with a brand-new observing mode, known as K2. It utilised the pressure of sunlight on the solar panels of Kepler to ensure it keeps pointing straight. “I always believed it was a space telescope that could,” stated Jessie Dotson, a project scientist situated at NASA Ames. “Kepler always did what we asked and more. That’s phenomenal to have in a scape telescope.”
The official end of Kepler occurred two weeks ago when the fuel pressure decreased by 75% in a matter of hours. Prior to shutting down, the space telescope managed to transmit all remaining data to Earth. Although it’s the end of Kepler, TESS will certainly take its place as the next planet-searching telescope which was launched in April 2018.
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