The Eagle Nebula as seen by Spitzer. Image: JPL/Cal-Tech
NASA’s Great Observatories continue to amaze. Three of four of their massive space telescopes (Hubble, Spitzer, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and Chandra X-Ray Observatory), designed to view the universe in different wavelengths of light, are still operational. And its youngest, Spitzer, celebrates 15 years in space on August 25, 2018.
On August 25, 2003, Spitzer was launched into space on a 2.5 year mission to to observe the universe in ways we’ve never seen before; in infrared. It went far past that short mission. In 2009, due to helium running out on the telescope, it was rendered unable to analyze super-cold cosmic objects in space. NASA moved Spitzer into its “warm phase” which it still operates in today. And, it’s responsible for giving us so many revelations about what surrounds our planet.
During its 15 years in space, Spitzer has given us details on the birth of stars, looked further into the universe than ever before, compiled one of the most comprehensive maps of the Milky Way ever made, and made us aware of Earth-like exoplanets like in the Trappist-1 system. In fact, according to Spitzer project manager Lisa Storrie-Lombardi of JPL, “Spitzer is very good at characterizing exoplanets, even though it wasn’t designed to do that.”
Mission team members expect Spitzer to be operational until at least November 2019. Who knows how long she’ll last past then, or what new clues she will unveil. Happy birthday, Spitzer.
Want more? Check out space.com or NASA’s tribute: 15 of Spitzer’s Greatest Discoveries from 15 Years in Space