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15 of Spitzer's greatest discoveries from 15 years in space



Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope spent 15 years in space. For this anniversary, 15 of Spitzer's greatest discoveries will be shown in a gallery.

Spitzer, who launched into orbit on August 25, 2003, is trailing the Earth and drifting farther and farther away from our planet. Spitzer was the final of NASA's four major observatories to reach space. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, originally planned for a mission of at least 2.5 years, has taken well beyond its expected lifetime.

# 1

5: The First Exoplanet Weather Map

  15 of the Greatest Spitzer Discoveries in 15 Years
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

Spitzer detects infrared light, which is often emitted by warm objects such as heat radiation. While Spitzer mission designers never planned to use the observatory to study planets beyond our solar system, his infrared vision has proven to be an invaluable tool in this field.

In May 2009, scientists produced data from Spitzer, the very first "weather map" of an exoplanet – a planet orbiting a star other than the Sun. This exoplanet weather map showed temperature variations over the surface of a giant gas planet HD 189733b. In addition, the study showed that roaring winds are likely to lash through the planet's atmosphere. The picture above shows the impression of an artist on the planet.

# 14: Hidden Cradles of Newborn Stars

  15 of Spitzer's Largest Discoveries in Space for 15 Years
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

In most cases, infrared light can penetrate gas and dust clouds better than visible light. As a result, Spitzer has delivered unprecedented views in regions where stars are born. This image of Spitzer shows newborn stars peeking out from under her blanket of dust in the dark cloud of Rho Ophiuchi.

This cloud, called "Rho Oph" by astronomers, is one of the closest star-forming regions of our solar system. Located near the constellations Scorpius and Ophiuchus in the sky, the fog is about 410 light-years from Earth

# 13: A growing galactic metropolis

Subaru / NASA / JPL-Caltech

In 2011, astronomers using Spitzer discovered a very distant collection of galaxies called COSMOS-AzTEC3. The light from this group of galaxies had traveled more than 12 billion years to reach Earth.

Astronomers believe that objects like these, called proto clusters, have become modern galaxy clusters or groups of galaxies connected by gravity. COSMOS-AzTEC3 was the most remote proto-cluster ever discovered. It gives researchers a better idea of ​​how galaxies have formed and evolved in the history of the universe.

# 12: The recipe for a "comet soup"

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

When the NASA Deep Impact probe purposely invaded Comet Temple 1 on July 4, 2005, it released a cloud of material containing the constituents of the primordial soup of our solar system. By combining data from Deep Impact with Spitzer observations, astronomers analyzed this soup and began to identify the constituents that eventually produced planets, comets, and other bodies in our solar system.

Many of the components identified in cometary dust were known cometary constituents such as silicates or sand. But there were also surprise ingredients such as clay, carbonates (found in shellfish), iron-containing compounds and aromatic hydrocarbons found in grills and car exhausts on Earth. Examination of these components provides valuable information on the formation of our solar system.

# 11: The largest known ring around Saturn

Credit: Keck / NASA / JPL-Caltech

Saturn's stunning ring system has been extensively photographed, but these portraits have not revealed the planet's largest ring. The thin structure is a diffuse accumulation of particles orbiting Saturn far farther from the planet than any of the other known rings. The ring starts about six million kilometers from the planet. It is about 170 times wider than the diameter of Saturn and about 20 times thicker than the diameter of the planet. If we could see the ring with our eyes, it would be twice the size of the full moon in the sky.

Phoebe, one of the farthest moons of Saturn, circles within the ring and is probably the source of its material. The relatively small number of particles in the ring does not reflect much visible light, especially in the orbit of Saturn, where sunlight is weak, so it remained hidden for so long. Spitzer was able to detect the glowing of cool dust in the ring, which has a temperature of about minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 193 degrees Celsius, or 80 Kelvin, and has been the largest in space for 15 years “/>

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Buckyballs are spherical carbon molecules that have the hexagon pentagon pattern on the surface of a football. Buckyballs, however, are named for their resemblance to geodesic domes designed by architect Buckminster Fuller. These spherical molecules belong to a class of molecules known as buckminsterfullerenes or fullerenes, which find application in medicine, engineering, and energy storage.

Spitzer was the first telescope to identify Buckyballs in space. She discovered the bullets in the material around a dying star or planetary nebula called Tc 1. The star in the middle of Tc 1 was once similar to our sun, but when it aged, it shed its outer layers, leaving only a denser white one dwarf star. Astronomers believe that buckyballs were created in layers of carbon that were blown off the star. Follow-up studies with Spitzer data have helped scientists to learn more about the distribution of these unique carbon structures in nature.

# 9: Solar System Smashups

  15 of Spitzer's Largest Discovery of 15 Years in Space
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Spitzer has found evidence of several rock collisions in distant solar systems. These types of collisions were common in the early days of our own solar system and played a role in the formation of planets.

In a particular series of observations, Spitzer identified a dust eruption around a young star, which could be the result of a collision between two large asteroids. The scientists had already observed the system at the outbreak, which was the first time that scientists had collected data on a system both before and after one of these dusty outbreaks.

# 8: First "Taste" of Exoplanet Atmospheres

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

In 2007, Spitzer was the first telescope to directly identify molecules in the atmosphere of exoplanets. Scientists used a technique called spectroscopy to identify chemical molecules in two different gas exoplanets. These so-called "hot Jupiter" are called HD 209458b and HD 189733b and are made of gas (not rock), but move much closer to their suns than the gas planets in our own solar system. Direct examination of the composition of exoplanet atmospheres was a significant step towards the possibility of one day discovering signs of life on rocky exoplanets. The above concept of the artist shows what one of these hot Jupiter might look like.

# 7: Distant Black Holes

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Supermassive black holes lurk on the nuclei of most galaxies. Scientists using Spitzer identified two of the farthest supermassive black holes ever discovered, giving an insight into the history of galaxy formation in the universe.

Galactic black holes are usually surrounded by dust and gas structures that provide and sustain them. These black holes and their surrounding disks are called quasars. Spitzer's two quasars discovered by Spitzer moved for 13 billion years to reach Earth, meaning they were formed less than 1 billion years after the birth of the universe.

# 6: A Distant Planet

  15 of Spitzer's Largest Discoveries in Space for 15 Years
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

In 2010, Spitzer helped scientists discover one of the most remote planets ever discovered, about 13,000 light-years from Earth. Most previously known exoplanets are within about 1,000 light-years of earth. The above figure shows these relative distances.

Spitzer achieved this task with the help of a ground-based telescope and a planetary hunting technique called microlensing. This approach relies on a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, in which light is bent and magnified by gravity. When a star passes from a distant star as seen from Earth, the gravity of the foreground star can bend and magnify the light of the background star. When a planet orbits the foreground star, the planet's gravity can contribute to the magnification and leave a clear imprint on the magnified light.

The discovery provides another clue to scientists who want to know if the planet's population is different everywhere in the galaxy, or if it differs from what was observed in our local neighborhood.

# 5: First Light from an Exoplanet

  15 from Spitzer's Largest Discoveries in Space 15 years
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Spitzer was the first telescope to observe light directly from a planet outside our solar system. Previously, exoplanets had been observed only indirectly. This achievement ushered in a new era in exoplanet science, marking an important milestone on the way to discovering possible signs of life on rocky exoplanets.

Two studies published in 2005 reported direct observations of warm infrared light from two previously proven "hot Jupiter" planets, designated HD 209458b and TrES-r1. Hot Jupiter are gas giants similar to Jupiter or Saturn, but are positioned extremely close to their home stars. From their gigantic orbits they absorb plenty of starlight and shine bright in the infrared range.

# 4: Discovering Small Asteroids

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Northern Arizona University / SAO

Spitzer's infrared vision allows one to examine some of the farthest objects ever discovered. But this space observatory can also be used to study small objects closer to the earth. In particular, Spitzer has helped scientists to identify and investigate near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). NASA monitors these objects to make sure that none of them are on a collision course with our planet.

Spitzer is particularly suitable for characterizing the true sizes of NEAs, as it detects infrared light emitted directly from the asteroids. In comparison, asteroids do not emit visible light, but only reflect it from the sun; As a result, visible light can show how reflective the asteroid is, but not necessarily how big it is. Spitzer was used to study many NEA that are less than 100 meters wide.

# 3: An Unparalleled Milky Way Map

  15 of Spitzer's Largest Discoveries of 15 Years in Outer Space
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Wisconsin

In 2013, scientists assembled more than 2 million Spitzer images collected over 10 years to create one of the most complete Milky Way maps ever produced. The map data came primarily from the Galactic Legacy Midplane Survey Extraordinaire 360 ​​Project (GLIMPSE360).

The view of the Milky Way is a challenge because dust blocks visible light so that entire regions of the galaxy are invisible. But infrared light can often penetrate dusty regions better than visible light and expose hidden parts of the galaxy.

Studies of the Milky Way with Spitzer data have provided scientists with better maps of the spiral structure of the galaxy and its central "bar". of stars. Spitzer has helped discover new remote locations of star formation, and has discovered a higher amount of carbon in the galaxy than expected. The GLIMPSE360 card continues to guide astronomers exploring our home galaxy.

# 2: "Big Baby" galaxies

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ESA

Spitzer has made important contributions to the study of some of the earliest galaxies ever studied. The light of these galaxies takes billions of years to reach Earth, so scientists see them as they did billions of years ago. Spitzer's distant galaxies emitted their light about 13.4 billion years ago, or less than 400 million years after the birth of the universe.

One of the most surprising discoveries in this area of ​​research has been the discovery of "big baby" galaxies, or those much larger and more mature than scientists thought early galaxies might be However, the big-baby galaxies showed that very early in the history of the universe, huge star collections merged.

# 1: Seven Earth-sized planets around a single star

  15 of Spitzer's largest Discoveries in space for 15 years
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Seven planet-sized planets orbit the star known as TRAPPIST-1. The largest amount of Earth-like planets ever discovered in a single system has inspired this amazing planetary system to both scientists and non-scientists. Three of the planets sit in the "habitable zone" around the star, where temperatures could support the liquid water on the surface of a planet. The discovery represents an important step in the search for life beyond our solar system.

Scientists observed the TRAPPIST-1 system for more than 500 hours with Spitzer to determine how many planets orbit the star. The telescope's infrared view was ideal to study the TRAPPIST 1 star, which is much cooler than our sun. The scientists watched the faint break-ins in the light of the star as the seven planets passed in front of them. Spitzer's observations have also allowed scientists to learn about the size and mass of these planets, which can help narrow down what the planets might be made of.


Further information:
15 years of space for NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope

Provided by:
Jet Propulsion Lab


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