Fo­cus on spitzer’s 15 years

We take a look at the mis­sion’s best bits this month

All About Space - - Contents -

Amis­sion orig­i­nally planned for just two-and-a-half years in space is now cel­e­brat­ing its 15th an­niver­sary; a re­mark­able achieve­ment for NASA’s Spitzer Space Tele­scope. Launched on the 25 Au­gust 2003 into a so­lar or­bit, this tele­scope has been us­ing its in­frared-sen­si­tive equip­ment to re­veal the hid­den gems of the cos­mos.

This space tele­scope was the fourth and fi­nal in­stal­ment of NASA’s Great Ob­ser­va­to­ries pro­gram, and it has been able to view the great be­yond in a light that is un­per­ceiv­able to the hu­man eye, re­veal­ing mar­vel­lous de­tails about our So­lar

Sys­tem and be­yond. In terms of num­bers the space­craft posts some amaz­ing fig­ures, given its ini­tial 2.5-year pri­mary mis­sion. It has logged over 106,000 hours of ob­ser­va­tion time and has ci­ta­tions in over 8,000 pub­lished pa­pers, and that’s not in­clud­ing the count­less im­ages pro­duced.

This jour­ney hasn’t been with­out its trou­bles though. In July 2009 the space­craft en­tered a ‘warm phase’ as the liq­uid he­lium sup­ply, which was keep­ing the in­stru­ments at sub-zero tem­per­a­tures, had de­pleted. Only two of the four cam­eras that make up the es­teemed In­frared Ar­ray Cam­era (IRAC) could op­er­ate with the same sen­si­tiv­ity as they would in the ‘cold phase’.

"In its 15 years of op­er­a­tions, Spitzer has opened our eyes to new ways of view­ing the uni­verse," says Paul Hertz, di­rec­tor of the As­tro­physics Divi­sion at NASA Head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton. "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."

“Spitzer has been able to view the great be­yond in a light that is un­per­ceiv­able to the hu­man eye”

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