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After 9 years in circulation, the Kepler Telescope leaves a legacy of discovery

Posted 11-4-2018 by Henry Zimmerman NASA / JPL-CALTECH / T. Pyle Getty Images After nine years in deep space, data…

Posted by Henry Zimmerman

NASA / JPL-CALTECH / T. Pyle Getty Images

After nine years in deep space, data gathering indicating that our sky is filled with billions of hidden planets, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has stopped fuel. On October 30, 2018, NASA announced the spacecraft retirement.

Looking up at the stars, it’s hard not surprising what else – or even like else – could be out there. The releases like Star Trek in pop culture show that we have always believed in the possibility of living beyond our own solar system. But it was only about a decade ago that we could locate and identify the distant planets of our dreams.

Since March 2009, NASA has discovered more than 2,600 planets, including potentially habitable, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope. Last week, after almost a decade of hunting for new planets, Kepler finally ran out of fuel. NASA decided to officially retire Kepler in its current circulation, away from the earth, October 30, 2018.

“There is a big difference between knowing and believing,” said Charlie Sobeck, NASA’s former head of Kepler mission. “I think that’s what Kepler’s legacy will be: We finally know that planets are everywhere out there and now we’ll go and find out more about them.”

Sobeck has been working on the Kepler mission since 2000, and although Kepler’s planet hunt has now come to an end, he sees the mission as a success and is not sad to see the spacecraft go. “This is no accident like being hit by a meteorite or failure of a motor or something. We ran out of gas. We knew we’d run out of gas,” he says.

Now that Kepler’s official retired, NASA plans to continue the pursuit of new planets, only this time, a little closer to home. While Kepler’s mission was to search for 3000,000-year-old planets, NASA launched a new spacecraft called Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, in April this year to search for every star within 100 light years of the earth.

Sobeck sees Kepler as “opening salvo” in the ongoing search to answer the question “Are we alone?”

“Without this mission, we would not have done tests, we would not have been looking for planetary atmospheres,” he says. “So Kepler really opened the door to a new route.”

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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