The end Is nigh for NASA's planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope

By Mike Wall
July 09, 2018, 10:33:18 AM EDT

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The end is near for the most prolific planet hunter of all time.

NASA's iconic Kepler space telescope — which has discovered 70 percent of the 3,750 exoplanets known to date — is running so low on fuel that the agency has put it into a hibernation-like state, agency officials announced today (July 6).

NASA made the move in an attempt to ensure that Kepler has enough fuel left to beam its latest data haul to its handlers early next month. [Kepler's 7 Greatest Exoplanet Discoveries (So Far)]

"To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled in early August," NASA officials wrote in a statement today. (The Deep Space Network is the global array of radio telescopes that NASA uses to communicate with its far-flung spacecraft.)

"Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode," they added. "On Aug. 2, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data."

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An artist's illustration of NASA's Kepler space telescope, which has discovered about 70 percent of all known exoplanets to date. Credit: NASA

The $600 million Kepler mission launched in March 2009, with the goal of helping astronomers determine just how common Earth-like planets are throughout the Milky Way galaxy. The spacecraft finds alien worlds via the "transit method," noticing the tiny brightness dips caused when orbiting planets cross a star's face from Kepler's perspective.

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