Thursday, 22 November, 2018

The Kepler mission has ended

NASA image of star cluster discovered by Kepler Spacewatch: Nasa retires planet hunter after it runs out of fuel
Sandy Nunez | 05 November, 2018, 15:14

The spacecraft has been in orbit for ten years.

NASA launched the Kepler telescope on March 6, 2009, in a bid to find out if Earth-like planets that may harbour life are common or rare in other star systems.

Kepler became the most effective exoplanet hunter thanks to its powerful ability to keep a close watch on light emission patterns from thousands of stars in the Milky Way. The spacecraft discovered planets in all shapes and sizes and groupings. Most of these new discoveries are due to a single endeavor-NASA's Kepler mission.(Chart: NASA/Ames Research Center/Wendy Stenzel and The University of Texas at Austin/Andrew Vanderburg) Kepler is a spacecraft housing a one-meter telescope that illuminates a 95-megapixel digital camera the size of a cookie sheet.

"The Kepler mission was based on a very innovative design". That means they're located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water - a vital ingredient to life as we know it - might pool on the planet surface.

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, some mechanical failures temporarily halted observations.

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What Kepler found during its lifetime could be a guide not only in the continuing search for exoplanets, but the search for anything alive beyond Earth. 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.

The Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes or MAST at the Space Telescope Science Institute will make the data accumulated over almost a decade of deep space observation available to the public. 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.

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. Many of these planets could be promising places for life. "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".

Both spacecraft used chemical fuel to twist themselves back toward Earth and beam their findings home; without that fuel there was no way to learn from our distant emissaries.

Kepler's replacement - TESS - is already space-borne, and along with the upcoming James Webb Telescope, these platforms are hoped to bring our observations of the universe to a whole new level. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development.