NASA is retiring one of its most important telescopes, the Spitzer Space Telescope, on Jan 30, as the telescope makes its final observations on Jan 29. The telescope was designed to look past obstacles that other telescopes had difficulty with using infrared light.
The telescope studied the infrared light to give insight into how the universe was created, the way stars died, and previously unknown details about how supermassive blackholes.
Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA, said this during the telescopes 15-year celebration: “Spitzer’s discoveries extend from our own planetary backyard, to planets around other stars, to the far reaches of the universe. And by working in collaboration with NASA’s other Great Observatories, Spitzer has helped scientists gain a more complete picture of many cosmic phenomena.”
The Spitzer Space Telescope has been in operation since August 2003 and has been observing the stars for us since. Originally designed to operate only for 2.5 years, it ended up operating for 5.5 years, and another 10.5 years with some of its instruments.
After the initial 5.5 years, the telescope lost its ability to cool itself, which still allowed partial operation with instruments that didn’t require that cooling. The loss of cooling was due to the supply of liquid helium that ran out. This limited the telescope’s ability to study supercold objects in space.
Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, Spitzer project manager at NASA’s JPL in Pasadena, California, said in a statement in August 2018: “The study of extrasolar planets was still in its infancy when Spitzer launched, but in recent years, often more than half of Spitzer’s observation time is used for studies of exoplanets or searches for exoplanets. Spitzer is very good at characterizing exoplanets, even though it wasn’t designed to do that.”
The telescope followed the path set by its cousins, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. It was the fourth pillar in NASA’s four “Great Observatories.” Three of the telescopes still orbit, while the CGRO was deorbited intentionally in June 2000, around a year after it launched after one of its gyroscopes failed.
The space agency is holding a conference to commemorate the telescope before its retirement on Jan 22, 1 PM EST. The event can be viewed on NASA’s YouTube channel.
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