The Spitzer Space Telescope makes many discoveries by detecting and imaging the Universe's infrared radiation. Launched in 2003, it is one of NASA's four Great Observatories, the others being the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and Hubble. Each of these spacecraft was designed to measure different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Unlike the others, Spitzer orbits the Sun, not the Earth. The satellite's route takes it further and further from the Earth's heat interference. Spitzer's main mission ended in 2009 when its coolant finally ran out, though its 'warm mission' continues.
Image: Spitzer against an image of the infrared sky (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Spitzer studies the infrared Universe.
Patrick Moore's guest explains.
Sir Patrick Moore's guest demonstrates how astronomers use infrared light in spacecraft such as the Herschel Space Observatory and in Earth-based telescopes such as UKIRT.
The Sky at Night looks at Compton, Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer.
Sir Patrick Moore and his guests talk about the Compton, Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer space observatories, which are collectively known as the Great Observatories.
The Spitzer Space Telescope (SST), formerly the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), is an infrared space observatory launched in 2003. It is the fourth and final of the NASA Great Observatories program.
The planned mission period was to be 2.5 years with a pre-launch expectation that the mission could extend to five or slightly more years until the onboard liquid helium supply was exhausted. This occurred on 15 May 2009. Without liquid helium to cool the telescope to the very low temperatures needed to operate, most of the instruments are no longer usable. However, the two shortest-wavelength modules of the IRAC camera are still operable with the same sensitivity as before the cryogen was exhausted, and will continue to be used in the Spitzer Warm Mission. All Spitzer data, from both the primary and warm phases, are archived at the Infrared Science Archive (IRSA).
In keeping with NASA tradition, the telescope was renamed after its successful demonstration of operation, on December 18, 2003. Unlike most telescopes that are named after famous deceased astronomers by a board of scientists, the new name for SIRTF was obtained from a contest open to the general public.
The contest led to the telescope being named in honor of Lyman Spitzer, one of the 20th century's great scientists. Though he was not the first to propose the idea of the space telescope (Hermann Oberth being the first, in Wege zur Raumschiffahrt, 1929, and also in Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen, 1923),Spitzer wrote a 1946 report for RAND describing the advantages of an extraterrestrial observatory and how it could be realized with available (or upcoming) technology. He has been cited for his pioneering contributions to rocketry and astronomy, as well as "his vision and leadership in articulating the advantages and benefits to be realized from the Space Telescope Program."
The US$800 million Spitzer was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, on a Delta II 7920H ELV rocket, Monday, 25 August 2003 at 13:35:39 UTC-5 (EDT).
It follows a rather unusual orbit, heliocentric instead of geocentric, trailing and drifting away from Earth's orbit at approximately 0.1 astronomical unit per year (a so-called "earth-trailing" orbit). The primary mirror is 85 centimeters (33 in) in diameter, f/12 and made of beryllium and was cooled to 5.5 K (−449.77 °F). The satellite contains three instruments that allowed it to perform astronomical imaging and photometry from 3 to 180 micrometers, spectroscopy from 5 to 40 micrometers, and spectrophotometry from 5 to 100 micrometers.