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Spitzer telescope

Topics covered: Awareness in space.

Spitzer telescope

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Features and objectives of the telescope, significant achievements.

 Context: Spitzer space telescope of NASA will be retired on January 30, 2020. Spitzer is going to shut down permanently after about 16 years of exploring the cosmos in infrared light.


Launched into solar orbit on August 25, 2003, Spitzer was initially scheduled for a minimum 2.5-year primary mission. But the space telescope has lasted far beyond its expected lifetime.

What Will Happen to the Spitzer Space Telescope After It Is Retired?

The telescope has a very particular orbit, trailing about 158 million miles behind the Earth to keep it away from interfering heat.

In about 53 years, Spitzer’s orbit will take it past our planet. But, once the telescope flies by Spaceship Earth, Spitzer will drift off in the opposite direction into the emptiness of space.

Key achievements:

  1. Spitzer’s discoveries extend from our own planetary backyard, to planets around other stars, to the far reaches of the universe.
  2. Spitzer has logged over 106,000 hours of observation time in the past 15 years. It has illuminated some of the oldest galaxies in the universe, revealed a new ring around Saturn, and peered through shrouds of dust to study newborn stars and black holes.
  3. The telescope also assisted in the discovery of planets beyond our solar system, including the detection of seven Earth-size planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1, among other accomplishments.

About Spitzer:

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was launched in 2003 to study the universe in the infrared.

It is the last mission of the NASA Great Observatories program, which saw four specialized telescopes (including the Hubble Space Telescope) launched between 1990 and 2003.

The goal of the Great Observatories is to observe the universe in distinct wavelengths of light.

The other observatories in Greta Observatories Program looked at visible light (Hubble, still operational), gamma-rays (Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, no longer operational) and X-rays (the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, still operational).

How it works?

  1. Spitzer focuses on the infrared band, which normally represents heat radiation from objects.
  2. Spitzer’s highly sensitive instruments allow scientists to peer into cosmic regions that are hidden from optical telescopes, including dusty stellar nurseries, the centers of galaxies, and newly forming planetary systems.
  3. Spitzer’s infrared eyes also allows astronomers see cooler objects in space, like failed stars (brown dwarfs), extrasolar planets, giant molecular clouds, and organic molecules that may hold the secret to life on other planets.

Sources: Indian Express.