After nine years in orbit, Kepler Space Telescope leaves legacy of discovery

NASA  Ames  Wendy Stenzel

These planets are within the habitable zone of their stars and may have liquid water.

"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", Zurbuchen said.

An artist's depiction of Dawn.

"When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago we didn't know of a single planet outside our solar system", said the Kepler mission's founding principal investigator, William Borucki. Perhaps some of these alien worlds would harbor unusual forms of life or have unique and telling histories or futures. The spacecraft discovered planets in all shapes and sizes and groupings.

Kepler may no longer be for this world (or any other world), but the space telescope's discoveries will extend further beyond the end of its mission. TESS is searching the 200,000 brightest stars closest to Earth.

And those high-profile finales come in the midst of a spree of other spacecraft troubles: the Opportunity rover on Mars remains silent almost five months after a planet-engulfing dust storm, and the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory were both briefly offline in October.

Between 20 and 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky likely have rocky Earth-sized planets orbiting in their habitable zones, Kepler found. NASA's elemental planet researching space telescope has run out of gas.

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"In many ways, Dawn's legacy is just beginning. Many are still hiding in the data, ready to be discovered", stated Susan Mullally, a scientist working at the STScI.

This image was spotted as part of Hubble mission to better understand how new stars are born.

Two other missions missions to the asteroid belt are underway. TESS's orbit, rather than being around the Sun, has a close relationship with the Moon: TESS orbits the Earth twice for each lunar orbit.

Unlike Cassini, whose kamikaze plunge into Saturn was its final, fiery farewell to the universe, Kepler will get a decommissioning command beamed to it from the NASA team on Earth. This mission will also land on the asteroid's surface and collect samples that will be returned to Earth for analysis.

Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science.

With over seven years of experience in online journalism, Vadim is passionate about everything related to science and the environment. Kepler was eventually assembled in the 2000s and launched in March of 2009. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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