ke­pler'S best bits

How this planet-hunt­ing tele­scope changed our view of the uni­verse

All About Space - - Contents - Writ­ten by Jonathan O'Cal­laghan

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.

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