Happy 10th Birthday, Spitzer Telescope!
Ten years ago, NASA's $800 million Spitzer Space Telescope was launched into space, joining the Hubble, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the now-defunct Compton Gamma Ray Observatory as one of the four space telescopes designed by NASA to create the Great Observatories program.
Since it's launch, the Spitzer telescope has studied comets and asteroids, counted stars, scrutinized planets and galaxies, and discovered soccer-ball shaped carbon spheres in space called buckyballs.
Moving into its second decade of scientific scouting, Spitzer continues to explore the cosmos near and far. One additional task is helping NASA observe potential candidates for a developing mission to capture, redirect and explore a near-Earth asteroid.
"President Obama's goal of visiting an asteroid by 2025 combines NASA's diverse talents in a unified endeavor," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "Using Spitzer to help us characterize asteroids and potential targets for an asteroid mission advances both science and exploration."
Spitzer's infrared vision lets it see the far, cold and dusty side of the universe. Close to home, the telescope has studied the comet dubbed Tempel 1, which was hit by NASA's Deep Impact mission in 2005. Spitzer showed the composition of Tempel 1 resembled that of solar systems beyond our own. Spitzer also surprised the world by discovering the largest of Saturn's many rings. The enormous ring, a wispy band of ice and dust particles, is very faint in visible light, but Spitzer's infrared detectors were able to pick up the glow from its heat.
One of Spitzer's most astonishing finds came from beyond our solar system. The telescope was the first to detect light coming from a planet outside our solar system, a feat not in the mission's original design. With Spitzer's ongoing studies of these exotic worlds, astronomers have been able to probe their composition, dynamics and more, revolutionizing the study of exoplanet atmospheres.
Other discoveries and accomplishments of the mission include a complete census of forming stars in nearby clouds; a new and improved map of the Milky Way's spiral-arm structure; and, with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, discovering that the most distant galaxies known are more massive and mature than expected.
In October, Spitzer will attempt infrared observations of a small near-Earth asteroid named 2009 DB to better determine its size, a study that will assist NASA in understanding potential candidates for the agency's asteroid capture and redirection mission.
For more information about Spitzer, visit: NASA.
Montage of images taken by Spitzer credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.