Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly also known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility was initially launched on August 25, 2003. Originally, the mission was designed for 2.5 years, but after observing its outstanding and marvelous discoveries, it’s timespan was extended to 5 years. One of NASA’s 5 greatest observatories, Spitzer was able to see and reveal the mysterious features of the universe.
Warm objects inside our universe do not always emit radiation in the visible spectrum of light. There are different types of spectrum in which objects emit heat. Infrared radiation has wavelengths longer than that of visible light, making it significant for the observation of the cosmos.
Taking this into account, we can say that the Universe has been playing hide and seek with us. Spitzer Space Telescope worked by playing the same game with the universe and capturing these infrared radiations emitted by the distant cosmic objects. It gave us significant insight into the Universe which has led to some exciting discoveries. Here are the top 7 discoveries by Spitzer Space Telescope-
7. Light From Very First Stars
The light emitted from the first generation of stars would have been emitted around 13 billion years ago. Therefore, they would have been redshifted towards the infrared spectrum making it almost impossible to observe them with the optical telescopes but not for Spitzer. It is exciting to think that just an 85 cm long infrared telescope would have been able to detect light emitted only a few hundred million years after the big bang.
6. Buckyballs In Space
The Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered the ‘celebrity’ molecule – Buckyball. It comprises of 60 carbon atoms resembling a football. The interstellar medium between the stars seemingly contains these molecules known as Buckminsterfullerene.
5. Oldest Galaxy Ever Known
Spitzer helped discover the oldest and most distant known galaxy ever known. Its name is GN-z11.
This galaxy was identified by teams of Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope. Having a stellar age of 40 million years, it is about 1/25th the size of Milky Way Galaxy and its mass is about 1% of it.
4. First-Ever Exoplanet Weather Map
Spitzer Space Telescope was able to frame the first-ever map of the surface of an exoplanet, a gas giant called HD189744b. Though Spitzer was never truly designed for this purpose, to study the planets beyond our solar system, it still has managed to surprise us with its extraordinary impressive performance.
3. Faraway Black Holes
Because of the excellent aperture and the high definition images of the Spitzer Space Telescope, NASA often used it to discover and observe the nature of the most distant nebulae as well as the black holes present inside nearby galaxies. Black Holes do not emit radiation in the visible spectrum of light but in the infrared spectrum. Therefore, Spitzer has been known to give the best observations of the black hole till now.
2. The Largest Hidden Ring Around Saturn
Spitzer was able to gather the stunning images of the hidden rings surrounding Saturn often referred to as the Phoebe ring. Originating from the satellite Phoebe, it is now more than 200 times as big as across the Saturn itself. This ring is really strange, it is tilted and probably orbits backward.
1. Seven Earth-Like Planets Around A Star
TRAPPIST-1 is an ultra-cool dwarf star located at a distance of 40 light-years away from us. At first, scientists thought that there were only 3 exoplanets orbiting the dwarf star but on Feb 22, 2017, Spitzer Space Telescope discovered that the system has 7 Earth-like planets. Apparently, the first 3 planets lie in the habitable zone of the star and could host intelligent life also.
After 16 years of unparalleled discoveries of the concealed features of the cosmos, the journey of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has finally come to an end. On 30th January 2020, NASA decided to shut down the telescope. Future infrared observatories will build upon the legacy of Spitzer and will try to finish what Spitzer started.
Farewell, Spitzer. Float in Peace.
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This Article is Written By Sukhjit Singh & Mallika.