kepler'S best bits
How this planet-hunting telescope changed our view of the universe
Before the Kepler space telescope was launched in March 2009, astronomers weren’t sure how common planets were in our galaxy. Was our Solar System a rarity, or were there countless other worlds out there awaiting our discovery?
The answer was a resounding ‘yes’ in favour of the latter with the help of Kepler. The telescope would go on to find more than 2,500 confirmed exoplanets beyond the Solar System, with nearly 3,000 more awaiting confirmation as planets. These have ranged from large uninhabitable gas giants orbiting close to their stars, known as hot Jupiters, to exciting Earth-like worlds orbiting stars both similar and different to our own Sun, some of which could be habitable. Kepler has almost single-handedly spawned a new field of astronomy, and many new telescopes are being designed to either study some of its planets in more detail or continue the hunt for strange new worlds.
The mission has not been without its problems, with the telescope experiencing a major fault in 2013. But it has soldiered on to the point now where it is only limited by the amount of fuel on board. At the time of writing the telescope had very little fuel left, without which it can no longer hunt for planets. By the end of 2018 the mission is expected to end, bringing to a close one of the greatest astronomy missions – let alone exoplanet missions – ever undertaken. Here, we take a look through some of Kepler’s biggest moments.