New York Times News Service
NASA’s vaunted planet-hunting space telescope Kepler has run out of maneuvering fuel and is being retired, the space agency announced on Tuesday.
After 9 1/2 years in orbit, 530,506 stars observed and 2,662 planets around other stars discovered, the little spacecraft will be left to drift forever around the sun.
“We have shown there are more planets than stars in our galaxies,” he said, many of which are in locations that could have liquid water on their surface, “a situation conducive to the existence of life.”
Kepler’s retirement marks the end of the beginning of an effort that will define the next half-century of NASA’s science, a quest to end cosmic loneliness, whether on the ocean worlds of Jupiter and Saturn, the sands of Mars or on the rocky worlds now known to be circling nearby suns.
NASA’s new satellite, TESS, has already taken up the search for planets in the nearby cosmos, and giant telescopes both on the ground and in space are being designed with an eye to their efficacy in detecting planets around other stars — exoplanets in the lingo.
“The search for planets is the search for life,” said Natalie Batalha, a longtime Kepler mission scientist now at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a conference in 2017. “These results will form the basis for future searches for life.”
Only about 30 years ago, astronomers could not reliably say there were planets around other stars. Now they say there are more planets than stars in the universe, and billions of potentially habitable ones in our own galaxy.
In the course of its decade, Kepler discovered some 5,580 possible planets by staring intently at the stars in a tiny patch of the Milky Way. Just under 3,000 have been confirmed, according an official NASA score card.