And now after a mammoth nine-and-a-half-year mission in search of potentially life-sustaining planets, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has officially run out of fuel.
Kepler has revolutionised our understanding of the universe. 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. Professor Lewis Dartnell from the University Of Westminster discusses Kepler's legacy. "But now we know, because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission, that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy".
Nearly lost in 2013 because of equipment failure, Kepler was salvaged by engineers and kept peering into the cosmos, thick with stars and galaxies, ever on the lookout for dips in in the brightness of stars that could indicate an orbiting planet.
"Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that's full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy", he added.
Borucki said his favorite exoplanet spotted by the telescope was Kepler 22B, located more than 600 light years from Earth.
"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".
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Six months after announcing the spacecraft's fuel stores were beginning to deplete, NASA announced Keplar's day had finally come on Wednesday.
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. Kepler used a detection method called transit photometry, which looked for periodic, repetitive dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.
Kepler hands off the baton to TESS now, NASA said. Over the life of the mission, more than 100,000 of those stars were actively monitored by Kepler. And who knows, Kepler may have already discovered a planet that is harboring life, we just need a more detailed view to spot it. Kepler also characterized a class of planets that don't exist in our solar system: worlds between the sizes of Earth and Neptune, or "super-Earths".
Nasa has experienced a series of spacecraft problems lately. NASA has chose to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. The sequence of commands for doing so has been transmitted to the spacecraft, awaiting a final command from the ground to run them. 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.
"He put together a like-minded team of scientists and engineers", Hertz said of Borucki.
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. "And the Kepler mission has paved the way for future exoplanet-studying missions".