Kepler space telescope: The planet-hunting spacecraft retires

This illustration depicts NASA’s exoplanet hunter the Kepler space

This illustration depicts NASA’s exoplanet hunter the Kepler space

Without fuel, the Kepler team has chose to retire the spacecraft, though it will continue to drift along in orbit around Earth for the foreseeable future.

Among these alien worlds are rocky, Earth-sized planets, some of which orbit within their stars' habitable zones, where liquid water could pool on the surface.

Launched in 2009, Kepler literally transformed our view of what lay out there in space, confirming suspicions that space is jam-packed with planets very similar to Earth.

After 9 years in space and over 2,600 planets discovered, NASA said it's finally time to retire its Kepler Space Telescope.

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This spacecraft has found thousands of new planets and studied more than half a million stars. "Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars", said Zurbuchen.

Originally positioned to stare continuously at 150,000 stars in one star-studded patch of the sky in the constellation Cygnus, the telescope took the first survey of planets in the Milky Way and became NASA's first mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of their stars.

In a new update, NASA reveals that the telescope has officially run out of the fuel it uses to maneuver. Kepler's transmitter and other instruments will be shut down in the coming days.

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, mechanical failures temporarily halted observations.

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"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", said Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California's Silicon Valley. "I'm excited about the diverse discoveries that are yet to come from our data and how future missions will build upon Kepler's results".

NASA's Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Before retiring the spacecraft, scientists pushed Kepler to its full potential, successfully completing multiple observation campaigns and downloading valuable science data even after initial warnings of low fuel.

Kepler's more advanced successor is the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April.

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Calling Kepler's mission "stunningly successful", TESS project scientist Padi Boyd told AP that the retired telescope has shown us that "we live in a galaxy that's teeming with planets". Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

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