Big NASA Space Missions Ended This Week, But Don't Panic

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NASA launched the Kepler telescope on March 6, 2009, in a bid to find out if Earth-like planets that may harbour life are common or rare in other star systems.

NASA says scientists have made discoveries at an incredible pace, and the data from Kepler will keep them going for at least the next decade.

These planets are within the habitable zone of their stars and may have liquid water. Luckily for planet hunters, NASA's TESS mission launched in April and will take over the exoplanet search.Kepler's HistoryThe Kepler mission was conceived in the early 1980s by NASA scientist Bill Borucki, with later help from David Koch.

Kepler's replacement - TESS - is already space-borne, and along with the upcoming James Webb Telescope, these platforms are hoped to bring our observations of the universe to a whole new level.

Both the Kepler telescope, which identified more than 2,600 alien planets, and the Dawn spacecraft, which visited the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres, ended because they no longer had enough gas in the tank. Kepler telescope had been running low on fuel for months.

"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 NASA Science Mission Directorate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen. The spacecraft discovered planets in all shapes and sizes and groupings. Ceres and Vesta are important to the study of distant planetary systems, too, as they provide a glimpse of the conditions that may exist around young stars,"said mission principal investigator Carol Raymond of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in a NASA news release. Many are still hiding in the data, ready to be discovered", stated Susan Mullally, a scientist working at the STScI.

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Two other missions missions to the asteroid belt are underway. As for Kepler, it will remain in its orbit for eternity, never coming closer than a million miles to Earth.

In NASA noted that the spacecraft does not threaten the Earth.

Efforts to better understand rocky planets continue on Mars, where the InSight lander, which will probe the planet's deep interior, will touch down on November 26.

The potentially groundbreaking Europa Clipper is set to conduct a detailed study of Europa's habitability during the 2020s.

The Hubble Telescope finally proves that when we stare at space, sometimes the galaxy smiles back. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. At the time, there were no known planets outside of the solar system.

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