By NASA // August 23, 2018
Launched in a solar job on August 25, 2003
(NASA) – Originally planned for a minimum primary mission of 2.5 years, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has gone far beyond its expected life span – and is still strong after 15 years.
On August 25, 2003, launched in orbit around the earth, Spitzer was the final of the four major NASA observatories to reach the space. The space telescope has illuminated some of the oldest galaxies in the universe, unveiled a new ring around Saturn and looked out through dust banks to study newborn stars and black holes.
Spitzer assisted in the discovery of planets outside our solar system, including the detection of seven planets in full size around orbit around the star TRAPPIST-1, in addition to other achievements.
"In his 15 years of operations, Spitzer has opened our eyes to new ways to view the universe," said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA headquarters in Washington.
"Spitzer's discoveries range from our own planetary backyard, to planets around other stars, to the far reaches of the universe, and by collaborating with NASA's other Great Observatories, Spitzer has helped scientists get a more complete picture to get from many cosmic phenomena. "
A look into the past
Spitzer detects infrared light – usually heat radiation emitted by warm objects. Infrared light is used on earth in a variety of applications, including night vision instruments.
With its infrared vision and high sensitivity, Spitzer has contributed to the study of some of the most distant galaxies in the known universe. The light of some of those galaxies traveled 13.4 billion years to reach the earth. As a result, scientists see these galaxies as they were less than 400 million years after the birth of the universe.
Under this population of ancient galaxies was a surprise for scientists: "big baby" galaxies that were much larger and more mature than scientists thought galaxies that might occur at an early stage might be. Large, modern galaxies are formed by the gradual amalgamation of smaller galaxies. But the "big baby" galaxies showed that vast collections of stars converged very early in the history of the universe.
Studies of these very distant galaxies were based on data from both Spitzer and the Hubble Space Telescope, another one from NASA's Great Observatories. Each of the four Great Observatories collects light in a different wavelength range. By combining their observations of different objects and areas, scientists can get a more complete picture of the universe.
"The Great Observatories program was really a brilliant concept," said Michael Werner, project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"The idea of obtaining multispectral images or data on astrophysical phenomenon is very convincing because most celestial bodies produce radiation over the entire spectrum – for example, an average galaxy like our own galaxy emits as much infrared light as visible wavelength light. spectrum offers new information. "
In recent years, scientists have used Spitzer to study exoplanets or planets in orbit other stars than our sun, although this was not expected by the telescope's designers.
With the help of Spitzer, researchers have studied planets with surfaces as hot as stars, others thought they were frozen and many in between. Spitzer has studied some of the closest known exoplanets to Earth and some of the most distant exoplanets have ever been discovered.
Spitzer also played a key role in one of the most important exoplanet discoveries in history: the detection of seven, about planets of terrestrial planets in orbit around a single star. The TRAPPIST-1 planetary system was different from any alien solar system that was ever discovered, with three of its seven planets in the & # 39; habitable zone & # 39 ;, where the temperature might be good for the existence of liquid water at the surfaces of the planets.
Their discovery was a tempting step in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.
"The study of extrasolar planets was still in its infancy when Spitzer was launched, but in recent years more than half of Spitzer's observation time has often been used for research into exoplanets or searches for exoplanets," says Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, project manager from Spitzer at JPL. "Spitzer is very good at characterizing exoplanets, even though it was not designed to do that."
Some other important discoveries made with the Spitzer Space Telescope are:
– The largest known ring around Saturn, a wispy, fine structure with 300 times the diameter of Saturn.
– First exoplanet weather map of temperature variations over the surface of a gas exoplanet. The results suggested the presence of strong wind.
– Asteroid and planetary smashups. Spitzer has found evidence for various rocky collisions in other solar systems, one of which thought to have two large asteroids.
– Recipe for "comets soup." Spitzer observed the aftermath of the collision between NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft and comet Temple 1, and discovered that comet material in our own solar system resembles that around nearby stars.
– The hidden shelters of newborn stars. Spitzer's infrared images offer an unprecedented view of the hidden cradles where young stars grow up, which revolutionizes our understanding of the birth of a star.
– Buckyballs in space. Buckyballs are football-ball shaped carbon molecules discovered in laboratory research with multiple technological applications on earth ..
– Huge clusters of galaxies. Spitzer has identified many more distant clusters of galaxies than previously known.
– One of the most comprehensive maps of the Milky Way galaxy ever assembled, including the most accurate map of the large beam with stars in the center of the Milky Way, made with Spitzer data from the Galactic Legacy Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire project or GLIMPSE.
A longer trip
Spitzer has registered 106,000 hours of observation time. Thousands of scientists around the world have used Spitzer data in their studies and Spitzer data are cited in more than 8,000 published articles.
Spitzer's primary mission ended 5,5 years, during which time the spacecraft worked in a "cold phase" with a supply of liquid helium that cooled three instruments on board to just above absolute zero. The cooling system reduced excess heat from the instruments themselves that could pollute their observations. This gave Spitzer a very high sensitivity to "cold" objects.
In July 2009, after Spitzer's helium supply ran out, the spacecraft entered a so-called "warm phase". Spitzer's main instrument, the infrared array camera (IRAC), has four cameras, two of which continue to operate in the warm phase with the same sensitivity they maintained during the cold phase.
Spitzer orbits the orbit around the earth (which means that it literally runs behind the earth while the planet revolves around the sun) and has fallen further and further behind the earth during its lifetime.
This is now a challenge for the spacecraft, because during the downloading of data to the earth, the solar panels are not directly directed towards the sun. As a result, Spitzer must use battery power during data downloads. The batteries are then charged between downloads.
"Spitzer is further away from the earth than we ever thought it would be while it was still in operation," said Sean Carey, manager of the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California.
"This has given the engineering team a number of real challenges, and they have been extremely creative and inventive to make Spitzer work well beyond its expected lifetime."
In 2016 Spitzer participated in an extensive mission with the name "Spitzer Beyond." The spacecraft is currently scheduled to continue operations until November 2019, more than 10 years after the start of the warm phase.
On the occasion of Spitzer's 15 years in space, NASA has released two new multimedia products: the NASA Selfies app for iOS and Android, and the Exoplanet Excursions VR Experience for Oculus and Vive, as well as a 360 video version for smartphones. . Spitzer's incredible discoveries and stunning images are central to these new products.
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