Originally launched in 2003, the Spitzer Space Telescope was only expected to work for around five years, but NASA has just celebrated the clever bit of kit’s 12th anniversary with a new digital calendar. The telescope has been tirelessly snapping incredible images of the universe and the calendar showcases some of the mission’s most amazing discoveries, plus a few that simply look awesome.
The planned mission of the telescope was only meant to be two and a half years, even though scientists knew that it could probably last five. The lifespan for most of its instruments was dependent on the amount of liquid helium on board, which is used to cool the equipment. Yet when this ran out, and the mission moved into its “warm” phase, scientists were able to use its two Infrared Array Cameras (IRAC). It’s expected to continue working late into this decade.
It uses the infrared cameras to explore asteroids, comets, exoplanets and galaxies. In fact, the cameras weren’t even designed in the first place to study exoplanets, but with a little bit of tweaking, the instruments allowed researchers to peer into their atmospheres, gathering information on things like climate. The telescope was even the first to ever detect light from an exoplanet back in 2005.
Its other discoveries are also pretty impressive. It was able to observe the aftermath when NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft slammed into the comet Tempel 1, it identified the Saturn's largest ring (which is around 300 times the planets diameter), and it even found one of the most remote exoplanets currently known around 13,000 light-years away.
The photographs in the calendar follow the history of the telescope from 2003 to today. “You can't fully represent Spitzer's scientific bounty in only 12 images,” Michael Werner, the mission's project scientist and a Spitzer team member since 1977, told NASA's website. “But these gems demonstrate Spitzer's unique perspectives on both the nearest, and the most distant, objects in the universe.”
From a swirling, star-studded galaxy to the birth of a star, the pictures are truly spectacular. If you want your own copy of the calendar, you can get your hands on it here!
The Orion Nebula, constructed using infrared Spitzer data. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech