NASA's Kepler Space Telescope Is Finally Shutting Down

The Kepler space telescope is out of fuel. NASA officials say the observatory will now shut down and be left to drift.

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope Is Finally Shutting Down
NASA Ames / W. Stenzel

In a press conference on Tuesday, NASA officials said the Kepler space telescope has finally run out of fuel. This will mean a permanent end to Kepler's extended career, but the exoplanet hunting it kick-started will continue.

The telescope launched in March 2009 with a mission plan for three and a half years. NASA has kept that mission running, in one form or another, through 2018. Now that Kepler has run out of the fuel it needs to stay in orbit, NASA will shut it down and let it drift away.

Kepler oversaw the golden age of exoplanet hunting. It discovered more than 2,300 worlds orbiting distant stars and marked an even greater number of candidates that have yet to be confirmed.

But these recent years have been borrowed time. In 2012 and 2013, Kepler's steering wheels started to fail and forced changes to its mission. NASA expected its fuel supply would run out sometime in 2018.

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Now, Kepler leaves its spiritual successor, TESS, to the job of looking for other worlds. This more specialized mission searches a far wider arc of the sky, with an eye toward nearby exoplanets that ground-based telescopes can follow up on.