NASA's elite planet-hunting spacecraft has been declared dead, just a few months shy of its 10th anniversary. Officials announced the Kepler Space Telescope's demise Tuesday, the AP reports. Already well past its expected lifetime, the 9 1/2-year-old Kepler had been running low on fuel for months. Its ability to point at distant stars and identify possible alien worlds worsened dramatically at the beginning of October, but flight controllers still managed to retrieve its latest observations. The telescope has now gone silent, its fuel tank empty. Kepler discovered 2,681 planets outside our solar system and even more potential candidates. It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbor life. It also unveiled incredible super Earths: planets bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.
"Kepler opened the gate for mankind's exploration of the cosmos," said retired NASA scientist William Borucki, who led the original Kepler science team. Adds NASA's astrophysics director Paul Hertz, "It has revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Now we know because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy." Kepler focused on stars thousands of light-years away; a successor to Kepler launched in April, NASA's Tess spacecraft, has its sights on stars closer to home and has already identified some possible planets. Now 94 million miles from Earth, Kepler should remain in a safe, stable orbit around the sun. Flight controllers will disable the spacecraft's transmitters, before bidding a final "good night." Click for more, including how using the telescope was sort of like trying to locate a flea.
(Read more Kepler telescope