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The Spitzer Space Telescope Signs Off

The Spitzer Space Telescope Signs Off

We honor the spacecraft’s 16-year journey with five beautiful images from the telescope.


The Helix nebula, imaged here in 2007, resembles a giant eye.

Image credits:

NASA/JPL-Caltech/K. Su (Univ. of Arizona)

Friday, January 31, 2020 - 13:15

Abigail Malate, Staff Illustrator

(Inside Science) -- The telescope that discovered the largest ring of Saturn, detected the first direct evidence of an exoplanet, and imaged remnants of the oldest documented supernova is retiring after 16 years hard at work. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was launched in August 2003 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It detects infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, and such vision allows it to peer through dense dust and gas to see hidden realms of the cosmos.

Spitzer’s capabilities and mission have evolved over the years. In 2009, it ran out of liquid helium to cool its telescope assembly, but continued to operate in a “warm phase,” (which was still pretty cold compared to Earth-based telescopes.) The spacecraft is drifting slowly away from the Earth, making it increasingly difficult to operate. NASA gave the spacecraft its final shut-off commands on Jan. 30.

Here we have compiled five of our favorite images that Spitzer took during its 16-year journey, selected for their aesthetic qualities.

Introduction by: Catherine Meyers, Editor


In June 2005, a mission involving three of NASA’s Great Observatories came together to produce this picture of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. In brilliant hues of pink and purple, studded with golden stars, the image is still a stunner almost 15 years later. The Spitzer Space Telescope provided the infrared data, colored in red. Hubble provided the visible data in yellow, while Chandra’s X-Ray data is represented in green and blue. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/O. Krause (Steward Observatory))

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Abigail Malate is a graphic designer at the American Institute of Physics, which produces the editorially independent news service Inside Science.