NASA’s Spitzer Telescope Celebrates Its 15th Birthday

NASA/JPL-Caltech

After the Curiosity rover celebrated its sixth birthday earlier this month, as reported by the Inquisitr, it’s now time to put on a party hat for the Spitzer telescope and toast to its 15 years in space.

Launched on August 25, 2003, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope celebrates its 15th birthday today. And it’s doing it in style, with two new multimedia products based on the marvelous discoveries and the fantastic images captured by the space telescope over the years.

To mark this festive occasion, the space agency has released the NASA Selfies app for iOS and Android, and the Exoplanet Excursions VR Experience for Oculus and Vive, complete with a 360-video version for smartphones, NASA touted earlier this week.

At the same time, the space agency has put together a photo gallery showcasing 15 of the greatest discoveries that Spitzer has made in its 15 years in space, unveiled yesterday on the NASA website.

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

Logging more than 106,000 hours of observation time, Spitzer has assisted thousands of astronomers worldwide in their research and is cited in more than 8,000 published studies, NASA reports.

“Initially scheduled for a minimum 2.5-year primary mission, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has gone far beyond its expected lifetime — and is still going strong after 15 years,” space agency officials stated in a news release.

The youngest of the agency’s four Great Observatories, Spitzer has made its mark on the advancement of scientific exploration, leading to some of the most exciting discoveries of recent years, notes Space.

“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,” said Hertz.

Each of the four Great Observatories is designed to pick up a different light wavelength. For instance, Spitzer detects infrared light, in most cases heat radiation coming from warm objects.

Meanwhile, the Hubble Space Telescope, launched in April of 1990, collects data in visible and near-ultraviolet light, whereas the other two Great Observatories — the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO), blasted into space in April, 1991, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, launched in July, 1999 — bear their respective specialties in their title.

Together, these telescopes have participated in astounding discoveries, such as the finding of “big baby” galaxies, to which Spitzer was instrumental. The telescope’s infrared vision and high sensitivity allowed researchers to peer into the distant cosmos and capture the light emitted by these galaxies 13.4 billion years ago, opening a window into the early universe.

Among Spitzer’s most remarkable finds is the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 system, seven Earth-sized planets lying on our cosmic doorstep and which orbit a star 39 light-years away from Earth.

Found in 2017, when Spitzer spotted the last four planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system — the first three had been discovered in 2015 with the help of the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile — these rocky planets are our best bet of finding life beyond the borders of our planet, the Inquisitr previously reported.

Trailing millions of miles behind our planet as it orbits the sun, the Spitzer Space Telescope has studied both the nearest and the most distant exoplanets ever uncovered. The telescope led to a major breakthrough in 2009, when Spitzer observations helped astronomers piece together the first-ever “weather map” of an exoplanet, and again in 2014, with the release of one of the most extensive maps of the Milky Way.

The space telescope also helped identify a large number of previously unknown galaxy clusters. In 2010, Spitzer zeroed in on one of the most remote exoplanets ever detected, lying 13,000 light-years away from Earth. In addition, the Spitzer Space Telescope has the merit of finding the largest ring around Saturn.

Spitzer is currently engaged in an extended mission known as “Spitzer Beyond,” NASA reported in 2016, and will continue to work its magic until at least November, 2019, space agency officials announced.