THE SPITZER SPACE TELESCOPE CELEBRATES 10 YEARS IN SPACE.
Illustration by: NASA (Links below).
Launched on August 25, 2003 onboard a Delta II 7920H ELV Rocket, the Spitzer Space Telescope is celebrating 10 years observing the cosmos in infrared. It resides in an “Earth trailing orbit” which is a heliocentric orbit (Around the Sun) that follows the same orbit as Earth. In fact, it trails the earth and falls behind approximately 0.1 AU (16,000,000km) per year. At this rate, in about 60 years, it will have lagged so far behind that Earth will have caught back up to it. When that happens it will be consumed (incinerate) in Earth’s atmosphere.
The following is an excerpt from the Spitzer mission page:
The Spitzer Space Telescope is the final mission in NASA’s Great Observatories Program – a family of four space-based observatories, each observing the Universe in a different kind of light. The other missions in the program include the visible-light Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO), and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (CXO).
Spitzer is designed to detect infrared radiation, which is primarily heat radiation. It is comprised of two major components:
The Cryogenic Telescope Assembly: Which contains the a85 centimeter telescope and Spitzer’s three scientific instruments.
The Spacecraft: Which controls the telescope, provides power to the instruments, handles the scientific data and communicates with Earth.
It may seem like a contradiction, but NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope must be simultaneously warm and cold to function properly. Everything in the Cryogenic Telescope Assembly must be cooled to only a few degrees above absolute zero (-459 degrees Fahrenheit, or -273 degrees Celsius). This is achieved with an onboard tank of liquid helium, or cryogen. Meanwhile, electronic equipment in The Spacecraft portion needs to operate near room temperature.
Spitzer is the largest infrared telescope ever launched into space. Its 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. 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.
Spitzer was originally built to last for a minimum of 2.5 years, but it is now expected to last for around 5.5 years before running out of coolant. At this stage, “warm Spitzer” is capable of observing with one of its three instruments for several more years.
NASA Spitzer Team main site: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/
NASA Spitzer page: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/main/index.html
Where is Spitzer NOW: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/mission/where_is_spitzer
Lyman Spitzer Jr. information: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/mission/241-Lyman-Spitzer-Jr-
Ask an Astronomer about Spitzer: http://coolcosmos.ipac.caltech.edu/cosmic_classroom/ask_astronomer/faq/mission.shtml