NASA releases the “last light” image taken by Kepler before it retired last year

NASA Kepler space telescope’s “last light” image

NASA has
released the final view
taken by Kepler in September, shortly
before the space telescope was
retired after nearly a decade
of unprecedented discoveries
about the universe beyond our solar system.

“It bookends the moment of intense excitement nine and a half
years earlier when the spacecraft first opened its eye to the skies
and captured its ’first
light’ image
,” wrote NASA Ames Research Center public
affairs officer Alison Hawkes. “Kepler went on to discover more
than 2,600 worlds beyond our solar system and statistically proved
that our galaxy has even more planets than stars.”

The “last light” image was taken on September 25, about a
month before Kepler retired. The space telescope was pointed in the
direction of the Aquarius constellation and the image encompasses
the TRAPPIST-1 system, containing “seven rocky planets, at least
three of them believed to be temperate worlds,” Hawkes wrote, and
the GJ
9827 system
, a star with an orbiting super Earth exoplanet (or
planet outside the Solar System) that is “considered an excellent
opportunity for follow up observations with other telescopes to
study an atmosphere of a faraway world.”

Kepler’s field of view also slightly overlapped with NASA’s
TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), its planet-hunting
successor, so astronomers will be able to compare data from the
two. TESS launched last year and is expected to catalogue more than
1,500 exoplanets.

Kepler’s legacy is even more extraordinary because its primary
mission was originally planned to last for 3.5 years. Instead, the
space craft, named for 17th-century German astronomer and
mathematician Johannes Kepler operated for nine
years
, thanks a combination of its sturdy construction and fuel
reserve. During that time, it discovered more than 4,500 confirmed
planets and planet candidates,
including 3,912 exoplanets
.

Significantly, many of the planets Kepler discovered may be
similar to Earth in size, with NASA analysis
concluding that 20 to 50 percent of the stars
in the sky are
likely orbited by “small, possibly rocky planets that are in the
habitable zone of their stars where liquid water could pool on the
surface” and potentially host life.

Kepler also continued recording specific targets every 30
seconds, doing so for a few hour after the “last light” image
was taken. “Although Kepler’s transmitters have been turned
off and it is no longer collecting science, its data will be mined
for many years to come,” Hawkes wrote.

Source: FS – All Tech News 2
NASA releases the “last light” image taken by Kepler before it retired last year