NASA officially announced that Kepler, the agency’s first planet hunting telescope, is being retired after nine years of service. With no fuel left in it to continue investigations, the telescope will be abandoned safely in its orbit, which is far away from the earth. In the years when it was active, Kepler collected a lot of data about earth-like planets in the Milky Way and these findings will be the basis for further explorations. In fact, the telescope made a number of breakthrough discoveries, far exceeding initial calculations. Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said that Kepler’s work has made it easier for us to continue the search for the possibility of life in the solar system and beyond.
Now, Kepler will get a decommissioning command from NASA which will make it go into a sleep mode, while continuing in its orbit. The telescope was launched in March 2009, with the objective to explore the Milky Way, looking for earth-sized planets that orbited around the millions of stars in our galaxy. In the nine-year span Kepler made possible the discovery of 2,600 such planets and marked around 4000 possible ones. The telescope has opened up a vast field of research before space scientists, bringing in a flood of information about our immediate cosmic surroundings. Zurbuchen says that the discoveries have shed a new light on where we are in the cosmos, and illuminated a host of mysteries and possibilities among the stars.
Using what is known as Transit Photometry, the telescope assessed the size of planets, their mass, and orbital period to determine whether the planet is habitable. In these, Kepler was assisted by the latest techniques for measuring the brightness of stars. It studied a number of planets in the galaxy and tried to determine if any of those were habitable. Thanks to the work done by Kepler, astronomers now know a lot about the diversity of planets in the Milky Way galaxy. Analysing the data sent from the telescope, scientists guess that most of the stars visible from the earth at night may have planets similar to our own. Some of these could be sufficiently warm to have water that can support life.