Monday, 21 January, 2019

RIP Kepler Space Telescope - Out of fuel and out of time

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a file image the US space agency's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel and is being retired after nine years RIP Kepler Space Telescope - Out of fuel and out of time
Theresa Hayes | 02 November, 2018, 09:54

But the innovative spacecraft enjoyed an illustrious career, discovering as many as 2,600 planets and inspiring new fields of research, NASA said.

Kepler's discoveries have shed a new light on mankind's place in the Universe.

There two vastly different NASA spacecraft are about to run out of fuel: The Kepler spacecraft, which spent nine years in deep space collecting data that detected thousands of planets orbiting stars outside our solar system; and the Dawn spacecraft, which spent 11 years orbiting and studying the main asteroid belt's two largest objects, Vesta and Ceres. The planet, called Kepler-16b, is the most "Tatooine-like" planet yet found in our galaxy and is depicted here in this artist's concept with its two stars.

During its nine-year mission, Kepler found more than 2,600 planets orbiting stars outside the solar system -including many with the potential for harboring life. "Now we know because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy". 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. Those systems range from Kepler-233, whose parent star may be merely 5 million to 10 million years old, to Kepler-444, whose planets may be more than twice Earth's 4.5 billion-year age. TESS is created to survey about 200,000 stars across a wide stretch of sky in our celestial neighborhood, and identify prospects for further study.

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".

"Because of fuel exhaustion, the Kepler spacecraft has reached the end of its service life", he said.

"NASA is handing off the mantle of planet hunter from the Kepler space telescope to TESS", Hertz declared. NASA has made a decision to retire the spacecraft, letting it continue its current orbit around the sun for eternity.

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

"Because of Kepler, what we think about our place in the universe has changed", Hertz said.

Goodbye, Kepler. And though you may be drifting in the dark tens of millions of miles away from your homeworld, you showed that the cosmos may not be so lonely, and your contributions will not be forgotten.

As of today, Kepler has detected 2,681 confirmed planets, plus 2,899 other candidates yet to be confirmed, said Kepler project scientist Jessie Dotson. That is, a small dip in the light from a star as the planet passed in front of it.

"He put together a like-minded team of scientists and engineers", Hertz said of Borucki.

Nasa has switched off the Kepler space telescope permanently after announcing that it had "exceeded all expectations".

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, some mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. The new mission, studying near and bright stars, was dubbed K2.

Nasa has declared its elite planet-hunting spacecraft dead.