Spitzer Space Telescope Ends Operations
After more than 16 years studying the universe in infrared light, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope's mission has come to an end.
Confirmed by Mission Engineers at 2:30 p.m PST on Thursday 30th January, the spacecraft was placed into safe-mode wherein all science operations will cease.
After this decommissioning was confirmed, Spitzer Project Manager Joseph Hunt declared the mission had officially ended.
Launched in 2003, Spitzer was one of NASA's four 'Great Observatories', along with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and, of course, the Hubble Space Telescope. The aforementioned program demonstrated the power of using different wavelengths of light to create a fuller and more understood picture of our universe.
Among its many scientific contributions, Spitzer mainly studied comets and asteroids in our own solar system, additionally finding a previously unidentified ring around Saturn.
It studied planet as well as star formation, the evolution of galaxies from their early stages to today, and the composition of interstellar dust.
Spitzer also proved to be a hugely valuable tool for detecting exoplanets and characterising their atmospheres. Spitzer's best-known work is most likely its detection of the seven Earth-like planets in the TRAPPIST-1 System - the largest number of terrestrial planets ever found to be orbiting a single star.
Following a review of operating astrophysics missions in 2016, NASA made the decision to close the Spitzer mission in 2018 in anticipation of the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which also will observe the universe using infrared light. However, when the launch of the JWST was postponed, Spitzer was granted an extension to continue operations until now.
We still must wait a little longer to see the launch of the JWST, which is currently scheduled to launch and begin operations in 2021.