NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope Ends Mission of Astronomical Discovery

NASA has finally retired its Spitzer Space Telescope after spending a remarkable 6,002 days in space. Last of its data was downloaded by the mission control on January 30th. The final command to enter safe mode was sent to mark the last day of the groundbreaking service Spitzer has provided for the entire scientific community.

Spitzer Project Manager Joseph Hunt officially declared the Spitzer Space Telescope to be decommissioned as of PST 2:34 PM. Spitzer was one of Nasa’s four major observatories, which allowed us to peek into the endless expanse of our cosmos. Alongside Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, it had shown us an incredible infrared view of the cosmos.

Spitzer Project Manager Joseph Hunt stands in Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 30, 2020, declaring the spacecraft decommissioned and the Spitzer mission concluded.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Launched in 2003, as the most sensitive infrared instrument of that time, the Spitzer Space Telescope lived a life that exceeded all expectations. It powered through a planned five-year mission to see through operations for nearly 16-and-half years.

It was the first telescope to detect direct light from exoplanets. It also revealed a new ring around Saturn. It helped to discover four of the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, and to characterise those planets, too. Spitzer’s line of achievements makes it legend among modern telescopes.

“Spitzer has taught us about entirely new aspects of the cosmos and taken us many steps further in understanding how the universe works, addressing questions about our origins, and whether or not are we alone,” said astrophysicist Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Nasa’s upcoming powerful infrared telescope, the James Webb Telescope’s imminent arrival was in fact paved by Spitzer. Scientists used it to perfect their understanding of how to conduct infrared astronomy, and now the intriguing targets studied using Spitzer will be followed up with Webb for even more detailed observations. JWT is said to be much more powerful that Spitzer and is expected to launch by 2021.

Spitzer is not in Earth orbit, but in Earth-trailing orbit around the Sun. As the final shutdown command has been sent, it will be reorienting itself, pointing its antenna directly at the Sun. It will continue drifting to swing past Earth again after 53 years and then continue towards the infinity it has spent so many years studying.

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