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article imageKepler telescope to be retired

By Tim Sandle     Aug 19, 2013 in Science
The Kepler space telescope has been retired from its planet-hunting mission after NASA engineers failed to find a fix for its hobbled pointing system.
The telescope’s pointing system broke down in May. This meant that the observatory can no longer hold completely steady as it looks towards the stars. Since then NASA engineers have worked through a number of possible solutions but have failed to find one that will work.
BBC Science describes the impact of the problem as significant because Kepler's method of detection has involved looking for the minute dips in light as planets pass in front of their stars. This is an extremely tricky measurement to make, with the total light changing by just tiny fractions of a percent, which requires that Kepler be held absolutely still during these observations.
This artist’s concept illustrates the two Saturn-sized planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler missi...
This artist’s concept illustrates the two Saturn-sized planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. The star system is oriented edge-on, as seen by Kepler, such that both planets cross in front, or transit, their star, named Kepler-9. This is the first star system found to have multiple transiting planets.
Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
According to the Daily Telegraph, NASA has yet to decide to what other uses the telescope can be put towards. In the meantime, scientists are continuing to sift through the wealth of information already collected, which they hope will yield hundreds or even thousands of discoveries.
Kepler is a space observatory launched by NASA to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. The advanced telescope was designed to survey a portion of the Milky Way galaxy to discover dozens of Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets. The telescope became operational in 2009; and as of July 2013, Kepler had found 134 confirmed exoplanets in 76 stellar systems, along with a further 3,277 unconfirmed planet candidates.
Quoted by the Daily Mail, Dr William Borucki, principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, California, said: “At the beginning of our mission, no-one knew if Earth-size planets were abundant in the galaxy. If they were rare, we might be alone.
Now at the completion of Kepler observations, the data holds the answer to the question that inspired the mission. Are Earths in the habitable zones of stars like our Sun common or rare?”
More about Kepler, Telescope, Observatory, Galaxy, Milky way
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