Nasa declares planet hunter Kepler Space Telescope dead

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This enabled an extended mission for the spacecraft, dubbed K2, which lasted as long as the first mission and bumped Kepler's count of surveyed stars up to more than 500,000. "Some of those, in fact, might be actual water worlds. Imagine what life might be like on such planets".

"That's the path Kepler has put us on", said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"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", said Borucki.

Project scientist Jessie Dotson, who works at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California, told Space.com: "Kepler has taught us that planets are ubiquitous and incredibly diverse". Among these worlds are rocky, Earth-sized planets, some of which orbit within their stars' habitable zones, where liquid water could pool on the surface.

The camera at the heart of the Kepler space telescope.

Of that total, the science team picked some 300,000 that were the right age, composition and brightness to host Earth-like planets.

This artist's concept obtained October 30, 2018, courtesy of NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle shows Kepler-186f, the first Earth-size planet in the habitable zone.

The spacecraft's camera was not created to take pictures like other space telescopes. Researchers used these observations to then search for periodic dimming events around each star, which indicates an exoplanet has passed in front of the star.

"It was like trying to detect a flea crawling across a auto headlight when the vehicle was 100 miles away", said Borucki said. 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.

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The washing machine-sized telescope will scan nearly the entire sky for two years in the search for more worlds circling stars beyond our solar system that could harbor life.

To make such discoveries, Kepler relied on three spinning "reaction wheels", with a fourth available as a spare, to keep the spacecraft rock-steady during its science observations. After the failure of a second gyroscope that kept the spacecraft steady in 2013, clever engineers found a way to use solar pressure to keep the spacecraft temporarily pointed in a desired direction. It was announced in 2012 that the mission would be extended through 2016, the agency provided roughly $20 million per year for its operation. The sequence of commands for doing so has been transmitted to the spacecraft, awaiting a final command from the ground to run them.

"In the end, we didn't have a drop of fuel left for anything else", said Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer.

Earlier this year, it became clear that the Kepler Space Telescope was running low on fuel - NASA has since been planning a replacement to take over the iconic satellite's ongoing search for exoplanets.

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.

NASA's Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "It always did everything we asked of it, and sometimes more".

The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn't exist in our solar system, however.

Borucki said his favorite exoplanet spotted by the telescope was Kepler 22B, located more than 600 light years from Earth.

A successor to Kepler launched in April, NASA's Tess spacecraft, has its sights on stars closer to home.

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