Spacewatch: Nasa ends 16-year Spitzer infrared mission

Spitzer became first telescope to directly capture light from planets in orbit around other stars

Nasa has ended science operations on its Spitzer infrared space telescope and placed the instrument into safe mode.

The mission officially ended at 2230 GMT on 30 January 2020. Spitzer was one of Nasa’s four “great observatories”, alongside the Hubble space telescope, the Chandra X-ray observatory and the Compton gamma ray observatory.

Together they spanned the electromagnetic spectrum from infrared, through visible to X-rays and gamma rays. Spitzer was launched on 25 August 2003 from Cape Canaveral. Its primary mission was planned to last for five years, but the telescope remained in good health and continued to deliver excellent science.

Among its most notable discoveries, Spitzer became the first telescope to directly capture light from planets in orbit around other stars.

It advanced the study of star formation and mapped the distribution of dust clouds across the Milky Way. Within our solar system, Spitzer studied the planets and the minor bodies to help explain their formation and subsequent evolution.

The decision to retire Spitzer has been taken in anticipation of the much larger James Webb space telescope, which will also operate in the infrared and will launch in 2021.

Contributor

Stuart Clark

The GuardianTramp

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