NASA Officially Announced The ‘Death’ Of The Kepler Space Telescope

Christopher Davidson
November 5, 2018

"As the first NASA's research mission of other planets, Kepler has greatly exceeded our expectations and opened the way to our exploration and search for extraterrestrial life in the Solar System and beyond", said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's scientific direction.

Kepler has retired from finding exoplanets that are orbiting distant stars, but the troves of data it has collected over the years will continue to help astronomers. Most of these new discoveries are due to a single endeavor-NASA's Kepler mission.(Chart: NASA/Ames Research Center/Wendy Stenzel and The University of Texas at Austin/Andrew Vanderburg) Kepler is a spacecraft housing a one-meter telescope that illuminates a 95-megapixel digital camera the size of a cookie sheet.

The spacecraft has been in orbit for ten years. The second phase of Kepler's mission was called K2 and the discoveries in this extended mission further improved our understanding of planets and planetary systems.

Since it was launched in 2009, Kepler has aided astronomers around the world in the hunt for planets outside of the solar system similar to Earth and orbiting other stars. "It was an extremely clever approach to doing this kind of science", said Leslie Livesay, director for astronomy and physics at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who served as Kepler project manager during mission development. But the mission team managed to devise a fix, switching the spacecraft's field of view roughly every three months. The new mission was dubbed K2.

The observation of so many stars has allowed scientists to better understand stellar behaviors and properties, which is critical information in studying the planets that orbit them. While spacecraft operations have ceased, its data will continue to be publicly available through the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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Kepler became the most effective exoplanet hunter thanks to its powerful ability to keep a close watch on light emission patterns from thousands of stars in the Milky Way.

"If you only pick out the ones that are getting toward the end of their life then you can make a story, but if you look at the entire portfolio of spacecraft, I don't think we have a problem at all, I think we are in a golden age of NASA science", Hertz said.

An artist's concept of NASA's Kepler spacecraft.

The search for exoplanets has already been taken up by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which launched in April of this year (2018). The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), whose launch has been delayed to 2021, will be capable of studying the atmospheres of planets discovered by TESS and identifying their chemical compositions.

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