Unfortunately the last five years of Kepler's exploits were hindered by malfunctioning reaction wheels, limiting the number of target stars that the space telescope could be directed towards. The latest data, from Campaign 19, will complement the data from NASA's newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launched in April. Now, after outliving its expected lifespan several times over, the spacecraft has finally died.
Now that it has no fuel, the telescope can't correct its very specific orbit, so it is drifting farther and farther from our planet. Now that it's out of fuel, NASA chose to officially retire the spacecraft, letting it float in a safe orbit far from Earth.
The space telescope was nearly lost in 2013 when Kepler had a failure, but engineers found a way to fix it and help the mission carry on until this month.
In its nine years in space, Kepler helped scientists spot potential planets by observing transits, or the moment when a space object passes in front of a star.
Initially situated to gaze consistently at 150,000 stars in a single ritzy fix of the sky in the constellation Cygnus, Kepler took the primary study of planets in the cosmic system and turned into NASA's first mission to identify Earth- size planets in the livable zones of their stars. "Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars".More news: Watch Pete Davidson Propose To SNL Musical Guest Maggie Rogers
The telescope laid bare the diversity of planets that reside in our Milky Way galaxy, with findings indicating that distant star systems are populated with billions of planets, and even helped pinpoint the first moon known outside our solar system.
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.
"To "Kepler" we do not know how often or rare in our galaxy there are planets", - says the head of the NASA astrophysics division, Paul Hertz.
"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", said Kepler's project scientist Jessie Dotson. The engineers from ground control have sent a command to the spacecraft to turn its transmitters off as it drifts silently into deep space.
Borucki, who dreamed up the mission decades ago, said one of his favorite discoveries was Kepler 22b, a water planet bigger than Earth but in an area where it is not too warm and not too cold - the type "that could lead to life". "It was like trying to detect a flea crossing a vehicle headlight when the auto was 100 miles away", William Borucki, the former principal investigator of Kepler, said in a press conference.More news: Neil Young confirms marriage to Daryl Hannah
During its mission, Kepler found 2,681 confirmed planets and another 2,899 candidates, bringing its tally to 5,580.
Researchers working on TESS expect to find at least 50 rocky, Earth-size worlds for scientists to scrutinize - perhaps double what Kepler has found.
Starting in 2014, this new mission was dubbed K2.
The James Webb Space Telescope is set to replace Kepler in March 2021, after significant delays.More news: Fight between driver and passenger causes deadly crash in China