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Year in Review: Death of a planet hunter

Kepler ends successful mission

12:00pm, December 24, 2013

THE END  The Kepler space telescope closed out a brilliant career this year.


When NASA’s Kepler space telescope launched in March 2009, astronomers had no proof that any star other than the sun harbored an Earth-sized planet (with a diameter within 25 percent of Earth’s). By May 2013, when the telescope suffered a mechanical failure that ended its planet hunt, Kepler scientists had discovered 10 such worlds and identified hundreds of yet-to-be-confirmed Earth-sized candidates.

Kepler’s death blow came when the second of four wheels used to orient the telescope failed. The spacecraft requires three wheels to home in on a patch of sky and search for planets that block out some of the light of their stars. Mission engineers tried to repair the wheels but gave up in August (

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