Known as the Great Observatories, NASA’s space telescope ‘super team’ includes the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. This comic book style animation from NASA introduces the team, highlighting Spitzer, which was retired on January 30th, 2020 after 16 years, 800,000 celestial targets, 36 million raw images, and 265,704,154 kilometers (165,100,907 miles) of travel from Earth.
From its 2003 launch to 2009, when its liquid helium coolant ran out, Spitzer Space Telescope revealed a side of the universe we’d never seen thanks to its ability to see infrared light. From CalTech:
When we think of light, we may imagine the glare of the Sun on a summer day, or the soft glow of a light bulb at night. But visible light, the only light our eyes can see, makes up just a tiny sliver of all the light in the world around us.
Infrared light falls just outside the visible spectrum, beyond the edge of what we can see as red. Sir William Herschel first discovered infrared light in 1800. He split light into a rainbow (called a spectrum) by passing sunlight through a prism, and then placed a thermometer in different colors in that spectrum. Unexpectedly, he found the thermometer showed a rise in temperature, even when placed in the dark area beyond the edge of the red light. He hypothesized that there must be more light beyond the color red that we simply could not see with our own eyes. You can recreate Herschel’s experiment yourself with a box, a prism, three thermometers, and a few other common supplies.
Then explore the cosmos with the Spitzer Space Telescope with this immersive “Exoplanet Excursions” VR experience, a tour of the telescope’s prime years of data gathering.
Watch more telescope videos and all things Hubble, including:
• Why Do We Put Telescopes in Space?
• Readying the Webb Telescope for Launch
• Building the Giant Magellan Telescope, the world’s largest telescope
• How small are we in the scale of the universe?