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Planet-hunting Kepler space telescope to be retired

Planet-hunting Kepler space telescope to be retired

Nasa has declared its elite planet-hunting spacecraft dead.

The Kepler space telescope of NASA which discovered 2,700 exoplanets distant star systems is now officially retired after running out of fuel.

Working in deep space for nine years, Kepler discovered planets from outside the solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. The telescope has now gone silent, its fuel tank empty. But the innovative spacecraft enjoyed an illustrious career, discovering as many as 2,600 planets and inspiring new fields of research, NASA said.

It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbour life.

For years, Kepler stared at a fixed area of the sky bridging the constellations Lyra and Cygnus to monitor about 150,000 stars for signs of planets.

Launched on March 6 in 2009, the Kepler space telescope combined cutting-edge techniques in measuring stellar brightness with the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time, reported Xinhua.

The telescope had been in operation for almost ten years after being launched into space in 2009.

"And because of Kepler, we know that solar systems come in a variety of configurations completely unlike our own, solar systems with Jupiters orbiting their stars in only a few days, solar systems with small, rocky planets packed inside the orbit of Mercury, so close that the planets are in resonance with each other".

NASA is due to launch the James Webb space telescope in 2021, at a cost of $8.9billion, which will continue much of Kepler's work.

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Now orbiting the sun 94 million miles (156 million km) from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet when mission engineers turn off its radio transmitters, the U.S. space agency said. Kepler was created to survey more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy to determine the number of sun-like stars that have Earth-size and larger planets, including those that lie in a star's 'habitable zone, ' a region where liquid water, and perhaps life, could exist.

"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.

"It has revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos", Hertz said.

"Around every star in the galaxy, we're confident now that there's probably at least one planet - so more planets than stars without a doubt and that's something that Kepler has shown us", he said.

Borucki, who dreamed up the mission decades ago, said one of his favourite discoveries was Kepler 22b, a water planet bigger than Earth but where it is not too warm and not too cold - the type "that could lead to life".

Fortunately, although Kepler is now retired, its successor, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is just getting started.

"The science and new discoveries were fantastic and changed our view in many fields of astrophysics and planetary science, including, of course, exoplanets", Kepler scientist Steve Howell said via email.

Tess project scientist Padi Boyd called Kepler's mission "stunningly successful". And recent glitches with the 28-year-old Hubble Space Telescope and the 19-year-old Chandra X-Ray Observatory have signaled that those grand-scale telescopes are past their prime, mechanically if not scientifically. NASA has decided on October 30, 2018, to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth.


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