The Spitzer Space
Telescope (SST), formerly the Space Infrared
Telescope Facility (SIRTF), is an infrared space telescope launched in
2003. It is the fourth and final of the
NASA Great Observatories
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
In keeping with
NASA tradition, the telescope was renamed after its
successful demonstration of operation, on 18 December 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 astronomer
Lyman Spitzer, who had promoted the concept of space telescopes in the
1940s. Spitzer wrote a 1946 report for
RAND Corporation 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
The US$720 million Spitzer was launched on 25 August 2003 at
UTC from Cape Canaveral SLC-17B aboard a
Delta II 7920H
It follows a heliocentric instead of geocentric orbit, trailing and
drifting away from Earth's orbit at approximately 0.1 astronomical
units per year (a so-called "earth-trailing" orbit). The primary
mirror is 85 centimeters (33 in) in diameter, f/12, made of
beryllium and was cooled to 5.5 K (−268 °C;
−450 °F). The satellite contains three instruments that allow
it to perform astronomical imaging and photometry from 3.6 to
160 micrometers, spectroscopy from 5.2 to 38 micrometers,
and spectrophotometry from 5 to 100 micrometers.
3.1 GLIMPSE and MIPSGAL surveys
3.3 Spitzer Beyond
3.4 Planet hunter
4 See also
6 External links
By the early 1970s, astronomers began to consider the possibility of
placing an infrared telescope above the obscuring effects of Earth's
atmosphere. In 1979, a report from the National Research Council of
the National Academy of Sciences, A Strategy for Space
Astrophysics for the 1980s, identified a Space
Facility (SIRTF) as "one of two major astrophysics facilities [to be
developed] for Spacelab", a Shuttle-borne platform. Anticipating the
major results from an upcoming Explorer satellite and from the Shuttle
mission, the report also favored the "study and development of ...
long-duration spaceflights of infrared telescopes cooled to cryogenic
The launch in January 1983 of the
Infrared Astronomical Satellite,
jointly developed by the United States, the Netherlands, and the
United Kingdom, to conduct the first infrared survey of the sky,
whetted the appetites of scientists worldwide for follow-up space
missions capitalizing on the rapid improvements in infrared detector
Earlier infrared observations had been made by both space-based and
ground-based observatories. Ground-based observatories have the
drawback that at infrared wavelengths or frequencies, both the Earth's
atmosphere and the telescope itself will radiate (glow) strongly.
Additionally, the atmosphere is opaque at most infrared wavelengths.
This necessitates lengthy exposure times and greatly decreases the
ability to detect faint objects. It could be compared to trying to
observe the stars at noon. Previous space observatories (such as IRAS,
Infrared Astronomical Satellite, and ISO, the
Observatory) were launched during the 1980s and 1990s and great
advances in astronomical technology have been made since then.
SIRTF in a
Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center clean room
Launch of SIRTF in 2003 aboard the 300th Delta rocket
Most of the early concepts envisioned repeated flights aboard the NASA
Space Shuttle. This approach was developed in an era when the Shuttle
program was expected to support weekly flights of up to 30 days
duration. A May 1983
NASA proposal described SIRTF as a
Shuttle-attached mission, with an evolving scientific instrument
payload. Several flights were anticipated with a probable transition
into a more extended mode of operation, possibly in association with a
future space platform or space station. SIRTF would be a 1-meter
class, cryogenically cooled, multi-user facility consisting of a
telescope and associated focal plane instruments. It would be launched
Space Shuttle and remain attached to the Shuttle as a Spacelab
payload during astronomical observations, after which it would be
returned to Earth for refurbishment prior to re-flight. The first
flight was expected to occur about 1990, with the succeeding flights
anticipated beginning approximately one year later. However, the
Spacelab-2 flight aboard
STS-51-F showed that the Shuttle environment
was poorly suited to an onboard infrared telescope due to
contamination from the relatively "dirty" vacuum associated with the
orbiters. By September 1983
NASA was considering the "possibility of a
long duration [free-flyer] SIRTF mission".
Spitzer is the only one of the
Great Observatories not launched by the
Space Shuttle, as was originally intended. However, after the 1986
Challenger disaster, the Centaur LH2–
LOX upper stage, which would
have been required to place it in its final orbit, was banned from
Shuttle use. The mission underwent a series of redesigns during the
1990s, primarily due to budget considerations. This resulted in a much
smaller but still fully capable mission that could use the smaller
Delta II expendable launch vehicle.
One of the most important advances of this redesign was an
Earth-trailing orbit. Cryogenic satellites that require liquid helium
(LHe, T ≈ 4 K) temperatures in near-Earth orbit are typically
exposed to a large heat load from the Earth, and consequently require
large amounts of LHe coolant, which then tends to dominate the total
payload mass and limits mission life. Placing the satellite in solar
orbit far from Earth allowed innovative passive cooling such as the
sun shield, against the single remaining major heat source to
drastically reduce the total mass of helium needed, resulting in an
overall smaller lighter payload, with major cost savings. This orbit
also simplifies telescope pointing, but does require the
Space Network for communications.
The primary instrument package (telescope and cryogenic chamber) was
Ball Aerospace & Technologies, in Boulder, Colorado.
The individual instruments were developed jointly by industrial,
academic, and government institutions, the principals being Cornell,
the University of Arizona, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,
Ball Aerospace, and Goddard Spaceflight Center. The shorter-wavelength
infrared detectors were developed by Raytheon in Goleta, California.
Raytheon used indium antimonide and a doped silicon detector in the
creation of the infrared detectors. It is stated that these detectors
are 100 times more sensitive than what was once available in the
beginning of the project during the 1980s. The far-IR detectors
(70 - 160 micrometers) were developed jointly by the University of
Arizona and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory using Gallium-doped
Germanium. The spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin. The mission is
operated and managed by the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Spitzer
Science Center, located on the
Caltech campus in Pasadena,
Spitzer ran out of liquid helium coolant on 15 May 2009, which stopped
far-IR observations. Only the IRAC instrument remains in use, and only
at the two shorter wavelength bands (3.6 µm and 4.5 µm).
The telescope equilibrium temperature is now around 30 K
(−243 °C; −406 °F), and IRAC continues to produce
valuable images at those wavelengths as the "Spitzer Warm
Henize 206 viewed by different instruments in March 2004. The separate
IRAC and MPIS images are at right.
Spitzer carries three instruments on-board:
Infrared Array Camera (IRAC)
An infrared camera which operates simultaneously on four wavelengths
(3.6 µm, 4.5 µm, 5.8 µm and 8 µm). Each module
uses a 256×256-pixel detector—the short wavelength pair use indium
antimonide technology, the long wavelength pair use arsenic-doped
silicon impurity band conduction technology. The principal
investigator is Giovanni Fazio of Harvard–Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics; the flight hardware was built by
NASA Goddard Space
Infrared Spectrograph (IRS)
An infrared spectrometer with four sub-modules which operate at the
wavelengths 5.3–14 µm (low resolution), 10–19.5 µm
(high resolution), 14–40 µm (low resolution), and
19–37 µm (high resolution). Each module uses a 128×128-pixel
detector—the short wavelength pair use arsenic-doped silicon blocked
impurity band technology, the long wavelength pair use antimony-doped
silicon blocked impurity band technology. The principal
James R. Houck of Cornell University; the flight
hardware was built by Ball Aerospace.
Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer (MIPS)
Three detector arrays in the far infrared (128 × 128 pixels at
24 µm, 32 × 32 pixels at 70 µm, 2 × 20 pixels at
160 µm). The 24 µm detector is identical to one of the IRS
short wavelength modules. The 70 µm detector uses gallium-doped
germanium technology, and the 160 µm detector also uses
gallium-doped germanium, but with mechanical stress added to each
pixel to lower the bandgap and extend sensitivity to this long
wavelength. The principal investigator is
George H. Rieke of the
University of Arizona; the flight hardware was built by Ball
Spitzer's first light image of IC 1396.
The first images taken by SST were designed to show off the abilities
of the telescope and showed a glowing stellar nursery; a big swirling,
dusty galaxy; a disc of planet-forming debris; and organic material in
the distant universe. Since then, many monthly press releases have
highlighted Spitzer's capabilities, as the
ESA images do for
the Hubble Space Telescope.
As one of its most noteworthy observations, in 2005, SST became the
first telescope to directly capture light from exoplanets, namely the
HD 209458 b
HD 209458 b and TrES-1b, although it did not resolve
that light into actual images. This was the first time extrasolar
planets had actually been visually seen; earlier observations had been
indirectly made by drawing conclusions from behaviors of the stars the
planets were orbiting. The telescope also discovered in April 2005
Cohen-kuhi Tau/4 had a planetary disk that was vastly younger and
contained less mass than previously theorized, leading to new
understandings of how planets are formed.
The Helix Nebula. Blue shows infrared light of 3.6 to 4.5 micrometers;
green shows infrared light of 5.8 to 8 micrometers; and red shows
infrared light of 24 micrometers.
While some time on the telescope is reserved for participating
institutions and crucial projects, astronomers around the world also
have the opportunity to submit proposals for observing time. Important
targets include forming stars (young stellar objects, or YSOs),
planets, and other galaxies. Images are freely available for
educational and journalistic purposes.
In 2004, it was reported that Spitzer had spotted a faintly glowing
body that may be the youngest star ever seen. The telescope was
trained on a core of gas and dust known as
L1014 which had previously
appeared completely dark to ground-based observatories and to ISO
Infrared Space Observatory), a predecessor to Spitzer. The advanced
technology of Spitzer revealed a bright red hot spot in the middle of
Scientists from the University of Texas at Austin, who discovered the
object, believe the hot spot to be an example of early star
development, with the young star collecting gas and dust from the
cloud around it. Early speculation about the hot spot was that it
might have been the faint light of another core that lies 10 times
further from Earth but along the same line of sight as L1014.
Follow-up observation from ground-based near-infrared observatories
detected a faint fan-shaped glow in the same location as the object
found by Spitzer. That glow is too feeble to have come from the more
distant core, leading to the conclusion that the object is located
within L1014. (Young et al., 2004)
In 2005, astronomers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and
Whitewater determined, on the basis of 400 hours of observation on the
Spitzer Space Telescope, that the
Milky Way galaxy has a more
substantial bar structure across its core than previously recognized.
Artificial color image of the Double Helix Nebula, thought to be
generated at the galactic center by magnetic torsion 1000 times
greater than the Sun's.
Also in 2005, astronomers
Alexander Kashlinsky and John Mather of
Goddard Space Flight Center
Goddard Space Flight Center reported that one of Spitzer's
earliest images may have captured the light of the first stars in the
universe. An image of a quasar in the Draco constellation, intended
only to help calibrate the telescope, was found to contain an infrared
glow after the light of known objects was removed. Kashlinsky and
Mather are convinced that the numerous blobs in this glow are the
light of stars that formed as early as 100 million years after the Big
Bang, redshifted by cosmic expansion.
In March 2006, astronomers reported an 80-light-year long (25 pc)
nebula near the center of the
Milky Way Galaxy, the Double Helix
Nebula, which is, as the name implies, twisted into a double spiral
shape. This is thought to be evidence of massive magnetic fields
generated by the gas disc orbiting the supermassive black hole at the
galaxy's center, 300 light-years (92 pc) from the nebula and
25,000 light-years (7,700 pc) from Earth. This nebula was
discovered by Spitzer and published in the magazine Nature on 16 March
In May 2007, astronomers successfully mapped the atmospheric
temperature of HD 189733 b, thus obtaining the first map of some kind
of an extrasolar planet.
Since September 2006 the telescope participates in a series of surveys
Gould Belt Survey, observing the Gould's Belt region in
multiple wavelengths. The first set of observations by the Spitzer
Telescope were completed from 21 September 2006 through 27
September. Resulting from these observations, the team of astronomers
led by Dr. Robert Gutermuth, of the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics reported the discovery of
Serpens South, a cluster of 50
young stars in the
Galaxy taken by MIPS at 24 micrometers
Scientists have long wondered how tiny silicate crystals, which need
high temperatures to form, have found their way into frozen comets,
born in the very cold environment of the Solar System's outer edges.
The crystals would have begun as non-crystallized, amorphous silicate
particles, part of the mix of gas and dust from which the Solar System
developed. This mystery has deepened with the results of the Stardust
sample return mission, which captured particles from Comet Wild 2.
Many of the Stardust particles were found to have formed at
temperatures in excess of 1000 K.
In May 2009, Spitzer researchers from Germany, Hungary and the
Netherlands found that amorphous silicate appears to have been
transformed into crystalline form by an outburst from a star. They
detected the infrared signature of forsterite silicate crystals on the
disk of dust and gas surrounding the star EX Lupi during one of its
frequent flare-ups, or outbursts, seen by Spitzer in April 2008. These
crystals were not present in Spitzer's previous observations of the
star's disk during one of its quiet periods. These crystals appear to
have formed by radiative heating of the dust within 0.5 AU of EX
In August 2009, the telescope found evidence of a high-speed collision
between two burgeoning planets orbiting a young star.
In October 2009, astronomers Anne J. Verbiscer, Michael F. Skrutskie,
and Douglas P. Hamilton published findings of the "Phoebe ring" of
Saturn, which was found with the telescope; the ring is a huge,
tenuous disc of material extending from 128 to 207 times the radius of
GLIMPSE and MIPSGAL surveys
GLIMPSE, the Galactic Legacy
Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire,
is a survey spanning 300° of the inner
Milky Way galaxy. It consists
of approximately 444,000 images taken at four separate wavelengths
Infrared Array Camera.
MIPSGAL is a similar survey covering 278° of the galactic disk at
On 3 June 2008, scientists unveiled the largest, most detailed
infra-red portrait of the Milky Way, created by stitching together
more than 800,000 snapshots, at the 212th meeting of the American
Astronomical Society in St. Louis, Missouri. This composite
survey is now viewable with the GLIMPSE/MIPSGAL Viewer.
An arrow points to the embryonic star HOPS-68, where scientists
believe forsterite crystals are raining down onto the central dust
Spitzer observations, announced in May 2011, indicate that tiny
forsterite crystals might be falling down like rain on to the
protostar HOPS-68. The discovery of the forsterite crystals in the
outer collapsing cloud of the protostar is surprising, because the
crystals form at lava-like high temperatures, yet they are found in
the molecular cloud where the temperatures are about −170 °C
(103 K; −274 °F). This led the team of astronomers to
speculate that the bipolar outflow from the young star may be
transporting the forsterite crystals from near the star's surface to
the chilly outer cloud.
In January 2012, it was reported that further analysis of the Spitzer
observations of EX Lupi can be understood if the forsterite
crystalline dust was moving away from the protostar at a remarkable
average speed of 38 kilometres per second (24 mi/s). It would
appear that such high speeds can arise only if the dust grains had
been ejected by a bipolar outflow close to the star. Such
observations are consistent with an astrophysical theory, developed in
the early 1990s, where it was suggested that bipolar outflows garden
or transform the disks of gas and dust that surround protostars by
continually ejecting reprocessed, highly heated material from the
inner disk, adjacent to the protostar, to regions of the accretion
disk further away from the protostar.
In April 2015, Spitzer and the Optical Gravitational Lensing
Experiment were reported as co-discovering one of the most distant
planets ever identified: a gas giant about 13,000 light-years
(4,000 pc) away from Earth.
Illustration of a brown dwarf combined with a graph of light curves
from OGLE-2015-BLG-1319: Ground-based data (grey), Swift (blue), and
In June and July 2015, the brown dwarf OGLE-2015-BLG-1319 was
discovered using the gravitational microlensing detection method in a
joint effort between Swift, Spitzer, and the ground-based Optical
Gravitational Lensing Experiment, the first time two space telescopes
have observed the same microlensing event. This method was possible
because of the large separation between the two spacecraft: Swift is
in low-Earth orbit while Spitzer is more than one AU distant in an
Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit. This separation provided
significantly different perspectives of the brown dwarf, allowing for
constraints to be placed on some of the object's physical
Reported in March 2016, Spitzer and Hubble were used to discover the
most distant-known galaxy, GN-z11. This object was seen as it appeared
13.4 billion years ago.
On 1 October 2016, Spitzer began its Observation Cycle 13, a
2 1⁄2 year extended mission nicknamed Beyond. One of the
goals of this extended mission is to help prepare for the James Webb
Space Telescope, also an infrared telescope, by identifying candidates
for more detailed observations.
Another aspect of the Beyond mission are the engineering challenges of
operating Spitzer in its progressing orbital phase. As the spacecraft
moves farther from Earth on the same orbital path from the Sun, its
antenna must point at increasingly higher angles to communicate with
ground stations; this change in angle imparts more and more solar
heating on the vehicle while its solar panels receive less
Artist's impression of the
Spitzer has been put to work studying exoplanets thanks to creatively
tweaking its hardware. This included doubling its stability by
modifying its heating cycle, finding a new use for the "peak-up"
camera, and analyzing the sensor at a sub-pixel level. Although in its
"warm" mission, the spacecraft's passive cooling system keeps the
sensors at 29 K (−244 °C; −407 °F). Spitzer
can use the transit photometry and gravitational microlensing
techniques to perform these observations. According to NASA's Sean
Carey, "We never even considered using Spitzer for studying exoplanets
when it launched. ... It would have seemed ludicrous back then, but
now it's an important part of what Spitzer does."
Examples of exoplanets discovered using Spitzer include
HD 219134 b
HD 219134 b in
2015, which was shown to be a rocky planet about 1.5 times as large as
Earth in a three-day orbit around its star; and an unnamed planet
found using microlensing located about 13,000 light-years
(4,000 pc) from Earth.
In September–October 2016, Spitzer was used to discover five of a
total of seven known planets around the star TRAPPIST-1, all of which
are approximately Earth sized and likely rocky. Three of the
discovered planets are located in the habitable zone, which means they
are capable of supporting liquid water given sufficient
parameters. Using the transit method, Spitzer helped measure the
sizes of the seven planets and estimate the mass and density of the
inner six. Further observations will help determine if there is liquid
water on any of the planets.
List of space telescopes
List of largest infrared telescopes
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Space Shuttle missions
The Blue Marble
Pale Blue Dot
Pillars of Creation
Solar System Family Portrait
The Day the Earth Smiled
Voyager Golden Record
Gemini and Apollo medallions
← 2002 · Orbital launches in 2003 ·
Coriolis ICESat ·
SpaceHab RDM ·
EDO) SORCE USA-166 ·
Progress M-47 Intelsat 907
USA-167 IGS-1A · IGS-1B
USA-168 Molniya-1 No.92
USA-169 INSAT-3A ·
Galaxy 12 AsiaSat-4
Hellas Sat 2
Mars Express (Beagle 2) Kosmos 2398
M1-10 Thuraya 2 Spirit Optus and Defence C1 ·
Molniya-3 No.53 Orbview-3 Monitor-E GVM · MIMOSA ·
DTUSat · MOST · Cute-I · QuakeSat ·
AAU-Cubesat · CanX-1 · Cubesat XI-IV Opportunity
EchoStar IX Kosmos 2399
SCISAT-1 Kosmos 2400 ·
Kosmos 2401 Spitzer
Progress M-48 USA-170 USA-171 PS-2
Mozhaets-4 · NigeriaSat-1 · UK-DMC ·
BILSAT-1 · Larets · STSAT-1 · Rubin-4
e-Bird · INSAT-3E ·
Soyuz TMA-3 USA-172 CBERS-2 ·
Chuang Xin 1
SERVIS-1 FSW-18 Shen Tong 1 Yamal-201 ·
Yamal-202 IGS-2A · IGS-2B USA-173 Gruzomaket Kosmos
2402 · Kosmos 2403 ·
Kosmos 2404 USA-174
Ekspress AM22 Tan Ce 1
Payloads are separated by bullets ( · ), launches by pipes (
). Manned flights are indicated in bold text. Uncatalogued launch
failures are listed in italics. Payloads deployed from other
spacecraft are denoted