Spitzer Space Telescope

Spitzer Space Telescope

Courtesy of NASA

http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/



Overview
Spitzer is the fourth and final mission in NASA's Great Observatories Program where each uses a different kind of light (Hubble—optical, Compton—gamma rays, Chandra—X-Rays, and Spitzer—infrared). Infrared imaging will provide a direct way of separating the stars from the warm dust, thereby dissecting a galaxy. Colorful images from Spitzer are beautiful to see.


Launch
August 25, 2003


Orbit
Heliocentric with a 2-year orbit period


End of Mission
May 15, 2009 (liquid helium supply that cools most of the onboard instruments was exhausted)

One camera operates without coolant so the spacecraft continues to collect data, but is now called the Spitzer Warm Mission.


Goals
Use infrared to peer into regions of space which are hidden from optical telescopes. Since many areas of space are filled with vast, dense clouds of gas and dust which block our view, infrared light can penetrate these clouds, allowing a glimpse into regions of star formation, the centers of galaxies, and into newly forming planetary systems. Infrared also brings us information about the cooler objects in space, such as smaller stars which are too dim to be detected by their visible light, extrasolar planets, and giant molecular clouds. Also, many molecules in space, including organic molecules, have their unique signatures in the infrared.


Findings

  • Verified that at least one of 17 invisible objects observed years ago lies within the body of our Milky Way galaxy, thereby supporting a hypothesis the puzzle of dark matter in the universe.
  • Discovered seven objects that may be supermassive black holes that powered the bright cores of the earliest active galaxies.
  • Discovered dusty disk swirling around the nearby star Vega, probably caused by collisions of objects, perhaps as big as Pluto.
  • Obtained the deepest and sharpest view yet of the core region of the Milky Way galaxy where stars are packed together densely as they race around the supermassive black hole that lies at the very center.
  • Discovered cataclysmic variable stars (two-star systems with a low mass, cool "brown dwarf" star orbiting a highly magnetic white dwarf star) with excess amounts of infrared radiation, suggesting that these odd objects are surrounded by large disks of cool dust.
  • Discovered an object that looks like a giant tornado in space in a region where new stars are forming.