On January 30, NASA will bid farewell to its Spitzer Space Telescope. The size of a schoolbus, Spitzer is one of NASA’s most beloved and hardworking telescopes: It launched on August 25, 2003, and its mission has been to study the universe using infrared light. (Space is cold, so detecting even slight variations in heat can be tricky, which is why we’ve needed Spitzer’s specialty skills.) In the last sixteen years Spitzer has revealed the universe to us, including helping scientists understand how galaxies form by revealing cold and impossible to see clumps of gas. It has also helped astronomers better understand star formation because it can see through opaque clouds to reveal activity hidden within them. Later in its mission, Spitzer helped detect the exoplanets around the Trappist 1 star system.
Sadly the mission is now coming to an end. The orbiting telescope has been low on coolant fuel for years, and now it is trailing further and further away from the Earth, making operations more difficult. Still, after nearly fourteen years over its planned mission lifetime, it’s done pretty well for itself. This week we will celebrate its legacy with just a few of the beautiful photos it took during its time in space.