The space telescope was nearly lost in 2013 when Kepler had a failure, but engineers found a way to fix it and help the mission carry on until this month. And in 2017 "Kepler" found "assosolare system" of the eight planets just like ours (after Pluto was demoted and transferred to the category of dwarf planets).
Astronomers were dazzled by the planets it found, including Kepler-22b, probably a water world between the size of Earth and Neptune.
Kepler has depleted its fuel source and NASA will retire it within its current orbit; a safe distance away from earth.
In that time the craft, which once boasted the largest digital camera ever built for outer space observations, has identified more than 2600 exoplanets, by monitoring dips in the brightness of host stars caused by its orbiting planets.
Before Kepler, only a handful of exoplanets had been detected directly, mostly giant gas planets - and none in an orbit thought able to sustain extra-terrestrial life. It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbor life.
"Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that's full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy", said Borucki. "Many are still hiding in the data, ready to be discovered", said Susan Mullally, a scientist working on the Kepler mission at STScI.
Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, some mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. The latest data, from Campaign 19, will complement the data from NASA's newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launched in April.
"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. "Kepler's nine-and-a-half year flight was more than twice the original target".
When launched, it was expected to last only six years, but it managed to outlive its designed lifespan by three years.
But after nine years and seven months of exploring the universe, the telescope has run out of fuel.
Tess project scientist Padi Boyd called Kepler's mission "stunningly successful".
So what now? Several exoplanet-hunting missions are in the works, according to MIT Technology Review, including the James Webb Space Telescope, which is now due to launch in 2021 after a series of delays.
However, a solution was found and in 2014 the "K2" element of the mission began, using solar pressure to help stabilize the pointing direction and observe new patches of the night sky.
NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz made the announcement during a teleconference today that included Bill Borucki, Kepler's principal investigator.
"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", Kepler Project Scientist Jessie Dotson said. "I'm excited about the diverse discoveries that are yet to come from our data and how future missions will build upon Kepler's results".
K2 enabled researchers to discover many planets, concluding that planets are extremely common.
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