The Kepler Space Telescope is the “most accomplished planet-hunting machine of all time”, and it’s seen its last days. Kepler’s final moments came on Thursday, when NASA scientists said goodnight for the last time.
It has been known for awhile that Kepler was nearing its end. Earlier this year, NASA officials announced that the decommissioning of the space observatory was imminent due to the fading fuel supply. In a statement on Friday, NASA said, “”Kepler’s team disabled the safety modes that could inadvertently turn systems back on, and severed communications by shutting down the transmitters,” and “”Because the spacecraft is slowly spinning, the Kepler team had to carefully time the commands so that instructions would reach the spacecraft during periods of viable communication.”
In the 9 years Kepler has been active in space, it has given us information that far exceeded expectations. It has revealed that there are more planets than stars out there. It has given us new information about the kinds of worlds that exist in our galaxy. As space.com reported, it has discovered 2,682 exoplanets to date.
Even in death, Kepler continues to reveal the secrets of our universe. Nearly 2,900 “candidates” detected during the original and K2 (second phase starting in 2014) missions await confirmation by follow-up analysis. That could take some serious time and reveal some seriously big news. So, we haven’t heard the last from Kepler.
Kepler is in a slightly bigger, slightly slower orbit around the sun than Earth. Without fuel and positioning capabilities, it will gradually drift further and further away from us. It cannot be recommissioned because its orbit around the sun makes it unreachable for refueling. It’s currently about 94 million miles away from Earth. Float on, Kepler. And, thank you.