Scientists at NASA are preparing to download the latest bit of data stored in its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope as the spacecraft is now running “very low” on fuel.
The US space agency has placed the spacecraft in a no-fuel-use safe mode to save the remaining fuel so that data extraction can be completed, NASA said on Friday.
Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.
Since the launch of the observatory in 2009, astronomers have discovered thousands of extra-solar planets, or exoplanets, through this telescope alone. Most of them are planets that are ranging between the size of Earth and Neptune (which itself is four times the size of Earth). Most of these planets were discovered in a small region of the constellation Cygnus, at which Kepler was pointed for the first four years of its mission.
As of March 2018, Kepler had found 2,342 confirmed planets; add potential planets, and its find of exoworlds stands at 4,587.