After spending more than 16 years in space, NASA on Thursday decommissioned the Spitzer Space Telescope, which was earlier known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility.
A press release issued by the space agency confirmed that mission engineers placed the spacecraft in safe mode — essentially ending all science projects — at around 5:30 p.m ET on Thursday. Spitzer Project Manager Joseph Hunt later confirmed the official ending of the mission.
The Spitzer Space Telescope was launched almost two decades ago in 2003. Soon after, it became part of NASA’s Great Observatories program. The Spitzer Space Telescope found itself in an illustrious company that included the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.
At the time of its launch, the Spitzer Space Telescope was NASA’s most sensitive infrared telescope in history. It was capable of detecting wavelengths that cannot be observed from the ground.
In the 16 years that the Spitzer Telescope spent in space, it has made several scientific contributions to humanity.
Incidentally, the news of the ending of the Spitzer mission comes just days after NASA found evidence of a planet in another solar system, as previously reported by The Inquisitr.
According to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, researchers used Spitzer to not only study objects in our solar system, but also to discover the mysteries behind star and planet formation in distant galaxies. It also played a significant role in the study of the evolution of galaxies and the composition of interstellar dust.
At 2:34 pm PST on Jan. 30, 2020, Spitzer Project Manager Joseph Hunt declared the Spitzer spacecraft decommissioned.
— NASA Spitzer (@NASAspitzer) January 30, 2020
The Spitzer Space Telescope will, however, be best known for its discovery of seven Earth-sized planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, which reportedly contains as many as seven planets like Earth. To this day, this remains the largest number of terrestrial planets ever found orbiting a star.
The telescope also helped researchers estimate the densities and masses of these seven planets orbiting a small red dwarf slightly bigger than planet Jupiter.
Previously, the Spitzer Space Telescope also helped scientists study comets and asteroids that dot the solar system. The telescope was also able to find a hitherto undiscovered ring around Saturn.
It was in 2016 that NASA made a decision to gradually end the Spitzer mission. The space agency initially decided to stop the program in 2018 to coincide with the launch of a new space telescope.
However, after the launch of this new space telescope, now known as the James Webb Space Telescope, was delayed, NASA decided to keep all operations going until 2020.
NASA has still yet to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, and as per current estimates, it would be at least 2021 before this new telescope reaches space.