Ten years after its launch, NASA”s Spitzer Space Telescope, the fourth of the agency”s four Great Observatories, continues to illuminate the dark side of the cosmos with its infrared eyes.
The telescope, launched August 25, 2003, studied comets and asteroids, counted stars, scrutinized planets and galaxies and discovered soccer-ball-shaped carbon spheres in space called buckyballs. Moving into its second decade of scientific scouting from an Earth-trailing orbit, Spitzer continues to explore the cosmos near and far. One additional task is helping NASA observe potential candidates for a developing mission to capture, redirect and explore a near-Earth asteroid.
“President Obama”s goal of visiting an asteroid by 2025 combines NASA”s diverse talents in a unified endeavor,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA”s associate administrator for science in Washington. “Using Spitzer to help us characterize asteroids and potential targets for an asteroid mission advances both science and exploration.”
Perhaps Spitzer”s most astonishing finds came from beyond our solar system, NASA says. The telescope was the first to detect light coming from a planet outside our solar system, a feat not in the mission”s original design.
In October, Spitzer will attempt infrared observations of a small near-Earth asteroid named 2009 DB to better determine its size, a study that will assist NASA in understanding potential candidates for the agency”s asteroid capture and redirection mission.
Above, the spectacular swirling arms and central bar of the Sculptor galaxy are revealed in this new view from the Spitzer Space Telescope.