The telescope will be decommissioned in the next week or two, NASA officials announced on Oct. 30. A rescue or refueling mission would be nearly impossible. So Kepler will shut down its radio transmitter and onboard fault-protection systems, becoming an inert chunk of metal that floats, silent and unresponding. “Kepler is currently trailing the Earth by about 94 million miles, and will remain the same distance from the Earth for the foreseeable future,” Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said during a teleconference.
Kepler (artist image)
Kepler is responsible for 70 percent of the roughly 3,800 confirmed exoplanet discoveries to date. Kepler made a variety of observations studying everything from asteroids and comets in our own solar system to distant supernova explosions. The space telescope’s observations have revealed that planets outnumber stars in the galaxy; that Earth-like, potentially habitable worlds are common; and that planets, and planetary systems, are far more varied and diverse than the limited example provided by our own solar system. Kepler launched in March 2009, tasked with determining how common Earth-like planets are around the Milky Way galaxy. The spacecraft hunted for alien worlds using the “transit method.” It initially stared at about 150,000 stars simultaneously.