NASA Bids Farewell To Pioneering Planet Hunter

Mindy Sparks
November 2, 2018

Unfortunately the last five years of Kepler's exploits were hindered by malfunctioning reaction wheels, limiting the number of target stars that the space telescope could be directed towards.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/BallNASA's Kepler space telescope, built in part by Ball Aerospace, before its launch in 2009. Originally only created to operate for around three and a half years, the spacecraft ultimately spent over nine and a half years in operation.

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.

"Kepler opened the gate for mankind's exploration of the cosmos", said retired NASA scientist William Borucki, who led the original Kepler science team.

Originally positioned to stare continuously at 150,000 stars in one star-studded patch of the sky in the constellation Cygnus, Kepler took the first survey of planets in our galaxy and became NASA's first mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of their stars. NASA announced that it has officially retired the spacecraft.

"The Kepler mission has paved the way for future exoplanet studying missions". "The Kepler spacecraft uses reaction wheels to keep its pointing, so Kepler couldn't continue in the same way", Jessie Dodson, Kepler project scientist, said in a press conference.

The $700 million mission even helped to uncover previous year a solar system with eight planets, just like ours. It is a possible "water world" the size of Earth, perhaps covered with oceans and with a water-based atmosphere.

The space agency launched a newer planet seeking telescope called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, back in April.

A series of huge new terrestrial telescopes now under construction will also be able to analyze exoplanet atmospheres spectroscopically, and look for signs of life such as the presence of oxygen gas and water vapor.

Kepler's data is furthering many areas such as the history of the Milky Way galaxy, and the initial stages of supernovae (exploding stars), which are studied to determine how fast our universe is expanding. It was also stated that at a distance of thousands of light-years from Earth, there are at least 30 thousand planets potentially suitable for life. It also unveiled incredible super Earths: planets bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

"We have shown there are more planets than stars in our galaxies".

"W$3 e know there are more planets than stars in our universe", Paul Hertz, NASA's director of astrophysics, said in a press release about TESS. However, TESS is likely find many more than that, as it is viewing more stars (and Kepler defied its creators' projections).

The Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory experienced technical problems earlier this month that have since been fully repaired.

The James Webb Space Telescope is set to replace Kepler in March 2021, after significant delays. This light would allow astronomers to take the spectrum of a planet and look for signs of habitability - and life.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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