After finding thousands of planets, NASA’s Kepler mission ends

Updated 4:45 PM EDT, Tue October 30, 2018
(CNN) —  

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has run out of fuel, and its mission has come to an end 94 million miles from Earth, the agency announced Tuesday. The deep space mission’s end is not unexpected, as low fuel levels had been noted in July.

The nine-year planet-hunting mission discovered 2,899 exoplanet candidates and 2,681 confirmed exoplanets in our galaxy, revealing that our solar system isn’t the only home for planets.

Kepler allowed astronomers to discover that 20% to 50% of the stars we can see in the night sky are likely to have small, rocky, Earth-size planets within their habitable zones – which means that liquid water could pool on the surface, and life as we know it could exist on these planets.

The final commands have been sent, and the spacecraft will remain a safe distance from Earth to avoid colliding with our planet.

“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 Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars.”

The Kepler mission was named in honor of 17th century German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion.

Kepler, the telescope, reached more than twice its initial target, accomplishing original mission goals and seizing unexpected opportunities to answer questions about our galaxy and the universe, according to Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center.