NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope, Passes Planet-Hunting Torch

NASA  Ames  Wendy Stenzel

The mission was first conceived 35 years ago and detected planets by looking for the way a star's light dims when a planet crosses the star's face. Kepler has also identified thousands more possible planets that are pending further investigation. "Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalising mysteries and possibilities among the stars". The spacecraft discovered planets in all shapes and sizes and groupings. The second phase of Kepler's mission was called K2 and the discoveries in this extended mission further improved our understanding of planets and planetary systems. High-quality data from ground-based telescopes requires long observations on the largest telescopes-precious resources that limit the number of planets that can be observed.We now know that there are at least as many planets in the galaxy as there are stars, and many of those planets are quite unlike what we have here in the solar system. TESS will become the newest exoplanet hunter NASA will use to continue to survey the sky and discover new worlds. 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. "It was an extremely clever approach to doing this kind of science", said Leslie Livesay, director for astronomy and physics at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who served as Kepler project manager during mission development.

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. The mission was re-christened as K2 and continued finding planets for another half decade.

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.

"If you only pick out the ones that are getting toward the end of their life then you can make a story, but if you look at the entire portfolio of spacecraft, I don't think we have a problem at all, I think we are in a golden age of NASA science", Hertz said.

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. Kepler's more advanced successor is the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April.

With Kepler retiring after an illustrious planet-hunting career, a new telescope will take its place.

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