After nine years in service, the space telescope Kepler has permanently gone to sleep. NASA announced that it has officially retired the spacecraft.
The announcement made on Wednesday, Oct. 31, does not come as a surprise. The U.S. space agency has warned as early as March this year that the spacecraft was running out of fuel and might shut off forever any time.
"As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond," stated Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator at NASA. "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, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars."
NASA has decided to retire Kepler within its current orbit, about 150 million kilometers away from Earth. The engineers from ground control have sent a command to the spacecraft to turn its transmitters off as it drifts silently into deep space.
Finding Thousands Of Exoplanets
Kepler was launched in March of 2009 with the hopes of finding other Earth-like exoplanets. In the span of almost a decade, it found more than 2,600 habitable planets outside of the Solar System.
More recently, analysis of data collected by Kepler revealed that about 20 to 50 percent of stars that are visible in the night sky might contain planets that are of similar size to Earth and located in the habitable zones of its host stars.
Even in its final moments, Kepler continued to deliver new data about the universe. It completed and successfully sent back its final report, Campaign 19, to NASA earlier this year.
NASA's TESS Satellite
The search for exoplanets similar to Earth, however, does not end with Kepler. NASA has already launched TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) to replace the retired 9-year-old space telescope.
TESS has already sent a first light image back in September to test out its sophisticated camera and show off the spectacular view from space. The new spacecraft will continue to survey the universe in the next couple of years to find more exoplanets based on how much visible light from stars dip.
According to NASA, TESS will divide the sky into 26 sectors to observe each one for at least 27 days. This will go on for about two years.