NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope will transmit the final science and engineering data to mission control today and then be commanded off, ending its amazing and surprising mission.
Spitzer has enabled groundbreaking advances in our understanding of planetary systems around other stars, the evolution of galaxies in the nearby and distant universe, the structure of our Milky Way galaxy, the infinite variety in the lives of stars, and the constituents of our Solar System. Long after Spitzer has ceased transmissions, scientists will continue making discoveries from its 16 years of data for decades to come.
NASA’s Spitzer used an ultra-sensitive infrared telescope to study asteroids, comets, planets and distant galaxies. Some of its top discoveries include:
- Recipe for “comet soup.” Spitzer observed the aftermath of the collision between NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft and comet Tempel 1, finding that cometary material in our own solar system resembles that around nearby stars.
- The largest known ring around Saturn, a wispy, fine structure with 300 times the diameter of Saturn.
- First exoplanet weather map of temperature variations over the surface of a gas exoplanet. Results suggested the presence of fierce winds.
- Asteroid and planetary smashups. Spitzer found evidence for several rocky collisions in other solar systems, including one thought to involve two large asteroids.
- The hidden lairs of newborn stars. Spitzer’s infrared images have provided unprecedented views into the hidden cradles where young stars grow up, revolutionizing our understanding of stellar birth.
- Buckyballs in space. Buckyballs are soccer-ball-shaped carbon molecules that have important technological applications on Earth.
- One of the most remote planets known, lying about 13,000 light-years away, deep within our galaxy. Spitzer helped in the search for exoplanets using a state-of-the-art method called microlensing.
- Massive clusters of galaxies. Spitzer identified many more distant galaxy clusters than were previously known.
- “Big baby” galaxies. Spitzer and Hubble found remote galaxies that were much more massive and mature than expected.
Spitzer on Social Media:
NASA/JPL has updated its Exoplanet Excursions Virtual Reality App with new modules including a narrated tour of the telescope and an all-new interactive experience where you learn to control the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Spitzer in-depth on solarsystem.nasa.gov: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/missions/spitzer-space-telescope/in-depth/