The US space agency's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel and is being retired after nine and a half years, having helped discover more than 2,600 planets, some of which may hold life, officials said Tuesday.
Kepler's discoveries have shed a new light on mankind's place in the Universe. The planet, called Kepler-16b, is the most "Tatooine-like" planet yet found in our galaxy and is depicted here in this artist's concept with its two stars.
"Before we launched Kepler, we didn't know if planets were common or rare in our galaxy", he said. The star system is oriented edge-on, as seen by Kepler, such that both planets cross in front, or transit, their star, named Kepler-9. TESS is created to survey about 200,000 stars across a wide stretch of sky in our celestial neighborhood, and identify prospects for further study. In speaking of Kepler's legacy, Hertz added, "Kepler data will continue to yield scientific discoveries for years to come".
"That's the path Kepler has put us on", said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
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Kepler was able to detect light from stars, but NASA is also studying plans for space observatories that are capable of detecting light from planets.
Now orbiting the sun 94 million miles (156 million km) from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet when mission engineers turn off its radio transmitters, the U.S. space agency said.
Six months after announcing the spacecraft's fuel stores were beginning to deplete, NASA announced Keplar's day had finally come on Wednesday. When scientists factored those finds into statistical formulas that take Kepler's limitations into account, they concluded that 20 to 50 percent of the Milky Way's stars may have rocky planets in habitable zones.
Kepler, the telescope, reached more than twice its initial target, accomplishing original mission goals and seizing unexpected opportunities to answer questions about our galaxy and the universe, according to Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center.
Kepler's data also provided a new way to assess whether a planet had a solid surface, like Earth and Mars, or is gaseous, like Jupiter and Saturn.
"He put together a like-minded team of scientists and engineers", Hertz said of Borucki.
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The latest data, from Campaign 19, will complement the data from Nasa's newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April.
NASA's Kepler mission has discovered a world where two suns set over the horizon instead of just one.
Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, mechanical failures temporarily halted observations.
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.
Since that time, NASA changed the craft's mission to adjust to the telescope's new normal, calling the updated mission K2.
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