Spitzer Space Telescope
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), has the ability to see through thick space dust, enabling the telescope to return unprecedented views of our universe, including a glowing stellar nursery and the swirls of a spiral galaxy.
Spitzer is forging new frontiers in space exploration. Since its launch, the observatory’s infrared sensors have uncovered a hidden universe teeming with embryonic stars, planet-forming disks, and previously unknown galaxies.
The telescope’s instruments were recalibrated in May 2009 to conduct science operations at warmer temperatures. Spitzer’s cryogen was projected to last as little as two-and-a-half years, but its efficient design and careful operations enabled it to last more than five-and-a-half years.
Science discoveries from Spitzer led to the science missions on WISE and the James Webb Space Telescope and are setting the stage for future studies of planets orbiting other stars.
Image courtesy of NASA.
Ball Aerospace provided the Cryogenic Telescope Assembly (CTA) and two of the three science instruments for Spitzer: the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) designed to provide the telescope with low and moderate spectral-resolution spectroscopic capabilities; and the Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS), a far-infrared instrument designed to provide imaging photometry and scan mapping. The detectors used in these instruments are up to 1,000 times more sensitive than any previous deployed infrared-centered missions.
The CTA is the “eyes” of Sptizer. Its lightweight beryllium telescope and innovative passive thermal control system can detect the faint infrared light produced by cosmic objects. The unique cooling system aboard the CTA allowed a “warm” launch, which was a historical first in space flight.
Once in space, the telescope was cooled to its operating temperature of five degrees above absolute zero (about 450 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit). The warm launch technique greatly reduced the amount of liquid helium coolant needed for a mission between two and one-half years to five years in duration.
Image courtesy of NASA.
Spitzer provides images and spectra from the infrared energy or heat radiated from celestial objects. Astronomers are using Spitzer to explore the near- and far-infrared universe. Spitzer data are complementary to data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Among other subjects, Spitzer is exploring distant celestial objects, such as young galaxies, quasars, brown dwarfs, and supernovas and planets of nearby stars. It can also observe planets, asteroids, and dust within our solar system.
A part of NASA’s Origins program, Spitzer is the final member of NASA’s family of Great Observatories, which collectively study a wide variety of astronomical phenomena.