NASA's planet-hunter telescope, Kepler, runs out of fuel

The Kepler space telescope's end has finally come

The Kepler space telescope that found thousands of planets beyond our solar system and boosted the search for worlds that might support life has run out of fuel, NASA said.

'Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm.

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

NASA has retired its Kepler space telescope, which discovered more than 2,600 planets outside our solar system during its nine-year lifespan.

During its mission, Kepler found 2,681 confirmed exoplanets - the term for planets outside our solar system - and another 2,899 candidates, bringing its tally to 5,580.

Thanks to Kepler's data, which was all safely beamed back to Earth before the end of the mission, we now know that planets are, in fact, exceedingly common.

Kepler helped astronomers measure potential planets by glimpsing transits, or moments when planets passed in front of their stars.

This discovery means these exoplanets are located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water - a vital ingredient to life as we know it - might exist on the planet surface.

"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".

There's poetry in Kepler's ability to make us feel both small and also so connected to the rest of our universe.

The space agency says it has chose to retire Kepler while it is located in its present orbit, which it describes as safe and away from Earth.

Though Kepler will no longer collect any more data, there's still plenty of images for NASA and other scientists to examine.

The artist's concept depicts Kepler-69c, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star like our sun, located about 2,700 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. Kepler also found Mother Nature often produces jam-packed planetary systems with an astounding number of planets orbiting close to their parent stars that our own inner Solar System looks sparse by comparison. However, although these planets tend to be the most enticing, according to Kepler, they are not the most common type of planet out there.

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", Kepler's project scientist Jessie Dotson said. It began science operations in late July, as Kepler was waning, and is looking for planets orbiting 200,000 of the brightest nearby stars to Earth.

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered a world where two suns set over the horizon instead of just one. "There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them".

A replacement: Several exoplanet-hunting missions are in the works, including the James Webb Space Telescope, now due to launch in 2021 after a series of delays.

The spacecraft, whose total mission cost was about $700 million, worked well right up to the end, other than the failure of two reaction control wheels in 2013 that ended the spacecraft's primary mission and led to the development of an alternative mission, called K2, that allowed Kepler to continue observations of regions of the sky for weeks at a time up until it ran out of hydrazine.

The heir to Kepler, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April and started science observations this summer.

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