The end is nigh for NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope


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The top is close to for probably the most prolific planet hunter of all time.

NASA’s iconic Kepler house telescope — which has found 70 p.c of the three,750 exoplanets recognized thus far — is working so low on gasoline that the company has put it right into a hibernation-like state, company officers introduced at present (July 6).

NASA made the transfer in an try to make sure that Kepler has sufficient gasoline left to beam its newest information haul to its handlers early subsequent month. [Kepler’s 7 Greatest Exoplanet Discoveries (So Far)]

“To deliver the information house, the spacecraft should level its massive antenna again to Earth and transmit the information throughout its allotted Deep House Community time, which is scheduled in early August,” NASA officers wrote in a press release at present. (The Deep House Community is the worldwide array of radio telescopes that NASA makes use of to speak with its far-flung spacecraft.)

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“Till then, the spacecraft will stay secure and parked in a no-fuel-use protected mode,” they added. “On Aug. 2, the group will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the proper orientation and downlink the information.”

The $600 million Kepler mission launched in March 2009, with the purpose of serving to astronomers decide simply how frequent Earth-like planets are all through the Milky Manner galaxy. The spacecraft finds alien worlds through the “transit technique,” noticing the tiny brightness dips brought on when orbiting planets cross a star’s face from Kepler’s perspective.

Kepler has been tremendously profitable by any measure. For instance, along with its spectacular uncooked planet tally (which can go up considerably; scientists are nonetheless vetting greater than 2,000 planet candidates detected by Kepler), the spacecraft’s observations recommend that about 20 p.c of sunlike stars host a roughly Earth-size planet within the liveable zone — that just-right vary of distances the place liquid water might exist on a world’s floor.

Throughout its main mission, Kepler stared at about 150,000 stars concurrently, looking for promising transits. That work ran by Could 2013, when the second of the spacecraft’s 4 orientation-maintaining response wheels failed. Engineers found out a technique to stabilize Kepler utilizing daylight stress, nonetheless, and in 2014, the spacecraft launched into an prolonged mission generally known as K2.

Kepler continues to seek for exoplanets throughout K2, however it’s learning a wide range of different celestial objects and phenomena as nicely. Kepler is doing this extended-mission work throughout roughly 80-day “campaigns,” every of which has a barely totally different focus.

Kepler has accomplished 18 K2 campaigns thus far. If sufficient gasoline stays after the Aug. 2 cellphone name house, marketing campaign 19 will start on Aug. 6, NASA officers stated.

The gasoline scenario does not come as an enormous shock; NASA introduced in March that Kepler was working low and would doubtless must stop operations in a matter of months. Refueling the spacecraft isn’t an choice; Kepler orbits the solar, not Earth, and it is presently hundreds of thousands of miles from our planet.

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