NASA's Kepler telescope running out of fuel, and time

NASA reported that its Kepler telescope is almost out of fuel, and that its researchers are preparing to download its existing troves of data before it goes permanently offline.
By Rick Docksai | Nov 26, 2018
The telescope that enabled the discovery of thousands of planets outside our solar system over the last decade is nearing its end. NASA said Friday that its orbital Kepler Space Telescope is almost out of fuel and is going into a "hibernation-like state" while researchers prepare to download its stored troves of datathey hope to glean a last few insights about distant star systems from Kepler before it goes offline forever.

The telescope has been combing deep space from orbit around Earth since 2009, its lenses combing one sector of deep space after another in a series of "observation campaigns." It embarked on its eighteenth observation campaign May 12, in which it focused on a patch of sky near the constellation Cancer that it had studied once before in 2015. According to NASA, researchers will use its remaining fuel to download the data from this latest campaign.

"The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones. Returning the data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel," NASA said in a statement.

The researchers said that they will keep the telescope in hibernation mode until August, when they will reactivate it to point its antenna toward Earth for data transmission. Once the researchers have obtained all the data, they will re-activate the telescope for its 19thand probably lastobservational campaign.

Kepler has led astronomers to discover 2,650 confirmed exoplanets over its 17 missions so far. They include blazing-hot gas giants that lie dangerously close to their host stars, planets that orbit two stars at the same time, and red dwarf stars around which clusters of terrestrial planets orbit. It has also found some planets that are just far enough from their stars to be potentially habitable.

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