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Kepler: RIP

Kepler's reaction wheel #4 has failed, leaving the telescope unable to point precisely. It has been an amazing ride. We now know of 2740 transiting exoplanet candidates, many which are still awaiting confirmation and characterization. We know of circumbinary, Tatooine-like planets. We've found eclipsing degenerate objects tidally deforming their companion stars. We've found compact systems of tiny planets parked right next to their stars. We now know that small planets abound throughout the Galaxy. The field of exoplanetary science, as well as astrophysics in general has been forever revolutionized by NASA's highly successful Kepler Mission.

But now it's time to say goodbye.

I did a phone interview yesterday with a reporter from the LA Times. She asked if I was mourning. I hadn't thought about it until then. But yes. Yes, I was mourning. My group about to have 5000 hand-picked red dwarf targets added to the Kepler observing list. Those stars and their myriad small, potentially habitable planets will go unobserved. So personally, yes, I'm extremely sad.

I'm also sad for all of the hard-working scientists and engineers at NASA Ames. They have gone above and beyond on a shoe-string budget to generate the exquisite Kepler data sets that my group has made a living on for the past three years. Thank you Kepler science team! We mourn with you the loss of this amazing scientific instrument, this previously unblinking eye into the Cosmos.

Geoff Marcy sums it up well on Facebook:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the internet,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let jet airplanes circle at night overhead
Sky-writing over Cygnus: Kepler is dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of doves,
Let the traffic officers wear black cotton gloves.

Kepler was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week, no weekend rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talks, my song;
I thought Kepler would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are still wanted now; let's honor every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing will ever be this good.

With thanks to W.H.Auden.


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