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The exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope is now dead

Mike Wehner

If you’ve read anything about newly discovered exoplanets over the past decade there’s a really good chance the discovery was made by the Kepler space telescope. Originally launched back in early 2009, the telescope has provided a steady stream of new planets for years on end. Now, after outliving its expected lifespan several times over, the spacecraft has finally died.

In a new update, NASA reveals that the telescope has officially run out of the fuel it uses to maneuver. Without fuel, the Kepler team has decided to retire the spacecraft, though it will continue to drift along in orbit around Earth for the foreseeable future.

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Like many pieces of NASA space hardware, the Kepler telescope exceeded expectations in just about every way. Originally only designed to operate for around three and a half years, the spacecraft ultimately spent over nine and a half years in operation.

“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,” NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement. “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.”

During its 18+ observation campaigns the telescope tallied literally thousands of exoplanet discoveries. Over 2,600 new planets have been spotted outside our own Solar System thanks to the Kepler, ranging from huge, hostile hot gas giants to cooler worlds, some of them likely habitable.

Going forward, NASA’s newly-launched TESS spacecraft will likely be the primary planet hunter for scientists. TESS is essentially brand new, having just began its observation mission last month, and it’s already looking very promising.

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