This last week we said goodbye to a truly pioneering space telescope. The Kepler mission was designed to find exoplanets, planets that orbit around other stars. The mission succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations.
This little space telescope monitored over 500,000 stars during it’s mission, watching for the minuscule dip in brightness as a panet passed in front of the star. For nine years Kepler stared at those thousands of stars, during that time it discovered over 2,600 exoplanets. Along with the planets came a long list of other discoveries such as binary stars, variable stars, and novae.
After nine productive years this engine of discovery has come to an end. With the spacecraft out of fuel NASA flight engineers sent the last commands, shutting the spacecraft down.
The Keck Observatory and the Kepler Spacecraft had a great partnership. It was not possible to confirm most Kepler’s possible exoplanets using only data from the spacecraft. A large telescope using a high resolution spectrograph, like HIRES on Keck 1, would allow astronomers to not only confirm Kepler’s discovery, but to learn more about each exoplanet.