Nasa to retire its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

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NASA's OG planet hunter had spent nine years in deep space and discovered 2,600 previously unknown planets that may or may not be breeding alien life (and indicated the existence of billions more).

Kepler helped astronomers measure potential planets by glimpsing transits, or moments when planets passed in front of their stars. "Many are still hiding in the data, ready to be discovered", said Susan Mullally, a scientist working on the Kepler mission at STScI.

But the mission was not without its hiccups - in 2013, mechanical failures stopped Kepler's observations. It will then float lifelessly through space in a dark, cold afterlife.

"The search for exoplanets using the Kepler data is still underway". Whether or not that means odd organisms have spawned there, the space telescope has left behind a legacy.

"It not only showed us how many planets could be out there, but it also generated a whole new field of research. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars".

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The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn't exist in our solar system - a world between the size of Earth and Neptune - and we have much to learn about these planets. Scientists are expected to spend a decade or more in search of new discoveries in the treasure trove of data Kepler provided. The European Space Agency is now testing the CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite (Cheops), which will accurately measure the density of planets around other stars to determine if they are rocky planets like Earth. "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".

What we might find could be wilder than anything out of science fiction.

One such planet, Kepler-186f, is very much like Earth.

It is reported that the spacecraft Kepler has exhausted its fuel and can no longer perform scientific operations. During K2, the Kepler spacecraft continued gathering the data necessary to hunt for exoplanets, and has allowed researchers to study other astrophysical questions.

In the year 2009, NASA has launched its Kepler Space Telescope whose main aim was to discover some few hundred exoplanets. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development.

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