Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

Kepler Telescope is Dead after Finding Thousands of Alien Worlds

NASA image of Kepler Kepler is dead. Now what
Sandra Phillips | 05 November, 2018, 15:16

The Kepler spacecraft launched in 2009 with the goal of finding exoplanets orbiting distant stars.

Closer to home, Dawn marked several firsts in robotic space exploration, including the first spacecraft to orbit two separate objects, the first to orbit any object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the first science mission to use ion propulsion, a technology that gave the spacecraft additional velocity and enabled it to orbit Vesta, then depart, travel to Ceres and enter orbit around the dwarf planet.

"Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that's full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy".

Kepler was originally positioned to stare at one star-studded patch of the sky in the constellation Cygnus.

The most recent data Kepler gathered revealed that between 20 and 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small planets, possibly rocky ones, similar in size to the Earth and located in the so-called "habitable zone". Although not confirmed, they may also be able to harbour liquid water - a vital ingredient to life. Now, with the fuel gauge near empty, the business of planet hunting is winding down and the spacecraft will be left adrift in the solar system. TESS's observing pattern, rather than staring at a single part of the sky, will scan almost the entire sky with overlapping fields of view (much like the petals on a flower).Duration of TESS's observations on the celestial sphere, taking into account the overlap between sectors.(Graphic: Nasa) Given what we learned from Kepler, astronomers expect TESS to find thousands more planetary systems. "(...) Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe", Zurbuchen added.

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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. The knowledge that there are planets scattered everywhere opens almost endless possibilities, and keeps pushing expectations for Kepler's successor TESS and other upcoming missions.

Scientists were surprised by evidence that Ceres could be geologically active, has chemistry that could support life, and may harbor a subsurface ocean or may have harbored one in its past.

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", says, Kepler's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Jessie Dotson. As for Kepler itself, it has far outlived its original four-year mission, and its passing is an opportunity to reflect on its success.

Kepler was replaced by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which was launched in April.

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