Before retiring the spacecraft, scientists pushed Kepler to its full potential, successfully completing multiple observation campaigns and downloading valuable science data even after initial warnings of low fuel.
But as NASA personnel stressed during a news conference Tuesday (Oct. 30) to announce the end of the Kepler mission, the sudden spurt of bad news is no reason to panic. Engineers on both missions knew their ends were looming, since they could calculate remaining fuel estimates. As a result, NASA chose to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit away from Earth.
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.
"Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. (...) Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe", Zurbuchen added. Kepler was not the first to do this, but it did take astronomy to new heights, accounting for 70 percent of all exoplanet discoveries. Astronomers may also have utilized Kepler's exoplanet heave to foretell that everybody out of the hundred and billions of stars in the Milky Way should possess at least one planet, generally.
Thanks to Kepler, the study of exoplanets has seen a remarkable boost in the past decade.
By looking out into the galaxy, and feeding back an ongoing stream of stellar data, Kepler brought us closer to the stars than any spacecraft, and stirred the desire for cosmic understanding among professional and amateur alike. By investigating a tiny slice of the sky, Kepler has detected light from many thousands of these stars in its view, and variations in the light received has been an indicator of planets. We are not so alone; in fact, based on the findings of Kepler, it is now estimated that there are more planets than stars in our galaxy.
Kepler was originally positioned to stare at one star-studded patch of the sky in the constellation Cygnus.
But the mission was not without its hiccups - in 2013, mechanical failures stopped Kepler's observations.
What Kepler found during its lifetime could be a guide not only in the continuing search for exoplanets, but the search for anything alive beyond Earth.
The founder of the Kepler mission, William Borucki, recalled that when this idea was conceived 35 years ago, humanity "did not know of a single planet" outside the solar system.