NASA Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel for further science operations and will be retired after a nine-year mission in which it detected thousands of planets beyond our solar system and boosted the search for worlds that might harbour alien life, NASA said on Tuesday. Kepler has discovered more than 2,600 planets.
Working in deep space for nine years, Kepler discovered planets from outside the solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.
The spacecraft will be retired within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth, according to NASA statement.
"As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC.
"Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars," said Zurbuchen.
A recent analysis of Kepler's discoveries suggested that 20 to 50 per cent of the stars visible in the night sky were likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars, which means they're located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water, a vital ingredient to life as we know it, might pool on the planet surface.
ALSO READ | Top five smartphones launched in October
"When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago, we didn't know of a single planet outside our solar system," said the Kepler mission's founding principal investigator, William Borucki, now retired from NASA's Ames Research Centre in California's Silicon Valley.
"Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that's full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy," said Borucki.
(With inputs from agencies)