CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA's elite planet-hunting spacecraft has been declared dead, just a few months shy of its 10th anniversary.

Officials announced the Kepler Space Telescope's demise Tuesday.

Already well past its expected lifetime, the 9 1/2-year-old Kepler had been running low on fuel for months. Its ability to point at distant stars and identify possible alien worlds worsened dramatically at the beginning of October, but flight controllers still managed to retrieve its latest observations. The telescope has now gone silent, its fuel tank empty.

Kepler discovered 2,681 planets outside our solar system and even more potential candidates. It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbour life. It also unveiled incredible super Earths: planets bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

It even helped to uncover last year a solar system with eight planets, just like ours.

"It has revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos," said NASA's astrophysics director Paul Hertz. "Now we know because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy."

Almost lost in 2013 because of equipment failure, Kepler was salvaged by engineers and kept peering into the cosmos, thick with stars and galaxies, ever on the lookout for dips in in the brightness of stars that could indicate an orbiting planet.

"It was like trying to detect a flea crawling across a car headlight when the car was 100 miles away," said retired NASA scientist William Boruki, who led the original Kepler science team.

The resurrected mission became known as K2 and yielded 350 confirmed exoplanets, or planets orbiting other stars, on top of what the telescope had already uncovered since its March 7, 2009, launch from Cape Canaveral.

In all, close to 4,000 exoplanets have been confirmed over the past two decades, two-thirds of them thanks to Kepler.

Kepler focused on stars thousands of light-years away and, according to NASA, showed that statistically there's at least one planet around every star in our Milky Way Galaxy.

A successor to Kepler launched in April, NASA's Tess spacecraft, has its sights on stars closer to home. It's already identified some possible planets.

Tess project scientist Padi Boyd called Kepler's mission "stunningly successful."

Kepler showed us that "we live in a galaxy that's teeming with planets, and we're ready to take the next step to explore those planets," she said.

Another longtime spacecraft chasing strange worlds in our own solar system, meanwhile, is also close to death.

NASA's 11-year-old Dawn spacecraft is pretty much out of fuel after orbiting the asteroid Vesta as well as the dwarf planet Ceres. It remains in orbit around Ceres, which, like Vesta, is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Two of NASA's older telescopes have been hit with equipment trouble recently, but have recovered. The 28-year-old Hubble Space Telescope resumed science observations last weekend, following a three-week shutdown. The 19-year-old Chandra X-ray Telescope's pointing system also ran into trouble briefly in October. Both cases involved critical gyroscopes, needed to point the telescopes.

Hertz said all the spacecraft problems were "completely independent" and coincidental in timing.

Now 94 million miles from Earth, Kepler should remain in a safe, stable orbit around the sun. Flight controllers will disable the spacecraft's transmitters, before bidding a final "good night."

--- The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Keyboard Shortcuts Keyboard shortcuts are available for common actions and site navigation. View Keyboard Shortcuts Dismiss this message Skip to content Twitter HomeHome MomentsMoments NotificationsNotifications 99+ Messages Search query Search Twitter Search Twitter Profile and settings Tweet NASA says its Kepler telescope has run out of fuel �� Science 1 minute ago After spending nine years making discoveries for NASA, the space telescope had to retire from science operations. The Kepler, which NASA says has unearthed 2,662 planets beyond our solar system, will still examine data. Like Tweet More Video via @NASAKepler NASAVerified account @NASA · 14h14 hours ago After 9 years in space ��, 2,600+ planet discoveries �� & data indicating there are billions of planets ⚫����, @NASAKepler is out of fuel. It will still analyze data, but retire from science ops, while @NASA_TESS continues the search for planets. More: NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope, Passes Planet-Hunting Torch After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of… nasa.gov 86 replies 1,164 retweets 3,557 likes Retweet 1.2K Like 3.6K More NASA Kepler and K2Verified account @NASAKepler · 15h15 hours ago What has the @NASAKepler space telescope achieved during its time in space? Take a look at the numbers: Kepler By the Numbers – Mission Statistics The Kepler space telescope is done with its work collecting astounding science data showing… nasa.gov 13 replies 584 retweets 954 likes Retweet 584 Like 954 More NASA Kepler and K2Verified account @NASAKepler · 16h16 hours ago After 9 years in space collecting data that revealed our night sky to be filled with billions of hidden worlds, @NASA is retiring the @NASAKepler space telescope. Hear from mission experts now at http://www.nasa.gov/live . Have ?s Use #askNASA. Details: NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope, Passes Planet-Hunting Torch After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of… nasa.gov 115 replies 1,277 retweets 3,175 likes Retweet 1.3K Like 3.2K More Play Hover to unmute 4:36 NASA Kepler and K2Verified account @NASAKepler · 15h15 hours ago The @NASAKepler space telescope has discovered more than 2,600 planets beyond our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. Learn more about the legacy of @NASA’s first planet-hunting mission: The Legacy of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope: More Planets Than Stars After nine years spent in deep space collecting data that revealed our night sky to be filled… youtube.com 0 replies 89 retweets 179 likes Retweet 89 Like 179 More Play Hover to unmute 1:10 NASA Kepler and K2Verified account @NASAKepler · 15h15 hours ago What will happen to the @NASAKepler space telescope? The spacecraft will remain forever in orbit around the Sun, periodically passing Earth but never coming closer than a million miles to our planet. Watch and learn more: What Will Happen to NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft? NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope found thousands of planets outside our solar system. Now… youtube.com 7 replies 125 retweets 239 likes Retweet 125 Like 239 More Play Hover to unmute 1:02 NASA Kepler and K2Verified account @NASAKepler · 15h15 hours ago The @NASAKepler space telescope revealed that there is statistically at least one planet around every star in our galaxy and opened our eyes to the diversity of worlds beyond our solar system. Learn more about the science legacy of the mission: Top Science Results from the Kepler Mission Top Science Results from the Kepler Mission nasa.gov 4 replies 130 retweets 294 likes Retweet 130 Like 294 More Thomas ZurbuchenThomas ZurbuchenVerified account @Dr_ThomasZ · 15h15 hours ago Thomas Zurbuchen Retweeted NASA Kepler and K2 What an amazing success! Congrats to the @NASAKepler team!Thomas Zurbuchen added, NASA Kepler and K2 Verified account @NASAKepler What has the @NASAKepler space telescope achieved during its time in space? Take a look at the numbers: https://go.nasa.gov/2qkZMHw 1 reply 45 retweets 168 likes Retweet 45 Like 168 More Play Hover to unmute 0:10 NASA_TESSVerified account @NASA_TESS · 12h12 hours ago Thanks for all the exoplanets, @NASAKepler! TESS is searching 85 percent of the sky to find planets around the nearest, brightest stars. 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