Over the past few years one of the most successful NASA projects is the exo-planet hunter Kepler space telescope. However recently a malfunction has occurred in the precision steering of the machine which has meant it is impossible for the mission to continue finding earth-sized planets around other stars.
Although the telescope is out of action finding further data, scientists are now left with more than two years of data to search through to find further exo-planets. Thus far there are 135 confirmed planets in the catalogue but with nearly 3,500 possible candidates.
However the legacy of NASA’s exo-planet finding success will continue with the proposed Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), scheduled for flight in 2017. The satellite itself may also have a future with the Kepler team discussing a multitude of alternate missions including finding planets through gravitational microlensing which would not require such an accurate precision steering.
Thank you to Kepler for finding us exotic planets with a variety of atmospheres, changing some of the accepted ideas behind planetary system formation and even finding the first mercury sized planet. We look forward to what other surprises wait in the archive of your results and to your successor.