On Thursday, NASA’s Spitzer Mission, which studied the universe in infrared light for more than 16 years, will come to an end since it is low on fuel and has been drifting away from Earth for a few years now. Engineers will decommission the Spitzer aircraft, after which it will cease to conduct science operations.
The Spitzer Space Telescope is a space-borne observatory, one of the elements of NASA’s Great Observatories that include the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray. Using different infrared wavelengths, Spitzer was able to see and reveal features of the universe including objects that were too cold to emit visible light. Apart from enabling researchers to see distant cold objects, Spitzer could also see through large amounts of gas using infrared wavelengths to find objects that may otherwise have been invisible to human beings. These included exoplanets, brown dwarfs and cold matter found in the space between stars.
Spitzer also studied some of the most distant galaxies ever detected. The light from these galaxies reached us after traveling for billions of years, enabling scientists “to see those objects as they were long, long ago”. Hubble and Spitzer in 2016 identified and studied the most distant galaxy ever observed. Using these two telescopes, scientists were able to see a bright infant galaxy as it was over 13.4 billion years ago, roughly 400 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was less than 5% of its current age.
Spitzer was originally built to last for a minimum of 2.5 years, but it lasted in the “cold” phase for over 5.5 years. On May 15, 2009 the coolant was finally depleted and the “warm mission” began.
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