NASA launched its Spitzer Space Telescope into orbit around the Sun on Aug. 25, 2003. Since then, the observatory has been lifting the veil on the wonders of the cosmos, from our own solar system to faraway galaxies, using infrared light.
Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Spitzer enabled scientists to confirm the presence of seven rocky, Earth-size planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. The telescope has also provided weather maps of hot, gaseous exoplanets and revealed a hidden ring around Saturn. It has illuminated hidden collections of dust in a wide variety of locations, including cosmic nebulas (clouds of gas and dust in space), where young stars form, and swirling galaxies. Spitzer has additionally investigated some of the universe’s oldest galaxies and stared at the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Spitzer’s primary mission lasted five-and-a-half years and ended when it ran out of the liquid helium coolant necessary to operate two of its three instruments. But its passive-cooling design has allowed part of its third instrument to continue operating for more than 10 additional years. The mission is scheduled to end on Jan. 30, 2020.
In honor of Spitzer’s Sweet 16 in space, here are some amazing images from the mission, while the rest of the images can be accessed in the article source location provided at the bottom of this article.
This Spitzer image shows the giant star Zeta Ophiuchi and the bow shock, or shock wave, in front of it. Visible only in infrared light, the bow shock is created by winds that flow from the star, making ripples in the surrounding dust. Located roughly 370 light-years from Earth, Zeta Ophiuchi dwarfs our Sun: It is about six times hotter, eight times wider, 20 times more massive and about 80,000 times as bright. Even at its great distance, it would be one of the brightest stars in the sky were it not largely obscured by dust clouds.
Read more about this image here:https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=3630
The Seven Sisters Pose for Spitzer
The Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters, is a frequent target for night sky observers. This image from Spitzer zooms in on a few members of the sisterhood. Viewed in the infrared, the stars seem to float on a bed of feathers. The filaments surrounding the stars are dust, and the three colors represent different wavelengths of infrared light. The densest portion of the dust cloud appears in yellow and red, and the more diffuse outskirts appear in green hues.
Read more about this image here:https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=1344
Young Stars in Their Baby Blanket of Dust
Newborn stars peek out from beneath their blanket of dust in this image of the Rho Ophiuchi nebula. Called “Rho Oph” by astronomers and located about 400 light-years from Earth, it’s one of the closest star-forming regions to our own solar system.
The youngest stars in this image are surrounded by dusty disks of material from which the stars – and their potential planetary systems – are forming. More evolved stars, which have shed their natal material, are blue. The extended white nebula right of center is a region of the cloud that glows in infrared light due to the heating of dust by bright young stars near the cloud’s right edge.
Read more about this image here:https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA10181
A Stellar Family Portrait
In this large celestial mosaic from Spitzer, there’s a lot to see, including multiple clusters of stars born from the same dense clumps of gas and dust. Some of these clusters are older than others and more evolved, making this a generational stellar portrait.
The grand green-and-orange delta filling most of the image is a faraway nebula. The bright white region at its tip is illuminated by massive stars, and dust that has been heated by the stars’ radiation creates the surrounding red glow.
Read more about this image here: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=7413
More information about Spitzer is available at the following site(s):