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Celebrating Spitzer, One of NASA’s Great Observatories

Celebrating Spitzer, One of NASA’s Great Observatories

As the Spitzer Space Telescope’s 16-year mission ends, we’re celebrating the legacy of our infrared explorer. It was one of four Great Observatories – powerful telescopes also including Hubble, Chandra and Compton – designed to observe the cosmos in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Light our eyes can see

The part of the spectrum we can see is called, predictably, visible light. But that’s just a small segment of all the wavelengths of the spectrum. The Hubble Space Telescope observes primarily in the visible spectrum. Our Chandra X-ray Observatory is designed to detect (you guessed it) X-ray emissions from very hot regions of the universe, like exploded stars and matter around black holes. Our Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, retired in 2000, produced the first all-sky survey in gamma rays, the most energetic and penetrating form of light.

Celebrating Spitzer, One of NASA’s Great Observatories

Then there’s infrared…

Infrared radiation, or infrared light, is another type of energy that we can’t see but can feel as heat. All objects in the universe emit some level of infrared radiation, whether they’re hot or cold. Spitzer used its infrared instrument to make discoveries in our solar system (including Saturn’s largest ring) all the way to the edge of the universe. From stars being born to planets beyond our solar system (like the seven Earth-size exoplanets around the star TRAPPIST-1), Spitzer’s science discoveries will continue to inspire the world for years to come.

Celebrating Spitzer, One of NASA’s Great Observatories

Multiple wavelengths

Together, the work of the Great Observatories gave us a more complete view and understanding of our universe.

Celebrating Spitzer, One of NASA’s Great Observatories

Hubble and Chandra will continue exploring our universe, and next year they’ll be joined by an even more powerful observatory … the James Webb Space Telescope!

Celebrating Spitzer, One of NASA’s Great Observatories

Many of Spitzer’s breakthroughs will be studied more precisely with the Webb Space Telescope. Like Spitzer, Webb is specialized for infrared light. But with its giant gold-coated beryllium mirror and nine new technologies, Webb is about 1,000 times more powerful. The forthcoming telescope will be able to push Spitzer’s science findings to new frontiers, from identifying chemicals in exoplanet atmospheres to locating some of the first galaxies to form after the Big Bang.

We can’t wait for another explorer to join our space telescope superteam!

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