In DepthAstronomy

Planet hunter nears its end

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Science  19 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6412, pp. 274-275
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6412.274

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Kepler, the NASA space telescope that almost single-handedly transformed the study of exoplanets, may have sent its last data home. Managers halted the craft's latest observing campaign last month when its pointing became unstable—a sign of low fuel supplies. To conserve fuel, they put it in "nap mode" until a scheduled slot for a high-speed download began on 10 October. Observations are still on hold as the mission team sifts the spacecraft's vital signs for hints of the remaining fuel supply, but the end could come suddenly and without warning. When it does, it will be a bittersweet conclusion to a prolific mission that upended theories. Before Kepler, astronomers had found only a few hundred exoplanets, mostly gas giants uncomfortably close to their parent stars. Kepler found thousands, of many sizes—including 30 tantalizingly similar to Earth.