All good things must come to an end.
This includes NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, an infrared observatory orbiting Earth. The telescope, which has been in operation for 16 years, has captured data on exoplanets, far-off galaxies and unknown mysteries of the universe. After an illustrious career, Spitzer is set to retire on Jan. 30.
Here are some highlights from Spitzer's journey:
Aug. 25, 2003
The Spitzer Space Telescope launches from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Spitzer data allows scientists to see light from the earliest stars (and, possibly, black holes).
After capturing images of the Milky Way for five years, NASA reveals a comprehensive portrait of our home galaxy. GLIMPSE, as the imaging project was known — short for Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire — measures 180 feet by 4 feet when printed at full resolution.
May 19, 2009
The telescope's coolant, essential for helping reduce heat noise in images, runs out, officially ending Spitzer’s “cold mission.” Two of Spitzer’s instruments, the Infrared Spectrograph and the Multiband Imaging Photometer, become officially unusable. This begins the “warm” phase of Spitzer’s mission.
Spitzer discovers an unknown ring around Saturn, called the Phoebe ring. The ring, also the planet's largest by radius, was only discovered because of Spitzer’s infrared capabilities.
Spitzer, along with a ground-based telescope, discovers a nearby chain of exoplanets, the TRAPPIST system. The system is eventually found to contain seven planets, some of which may be in the habitable zone.
Spitzer is supposed to end its mission, but due to delays on the James Webb Space Telescope, Spitzer continues until 2020. This begins Spitzer’s “Beyond” mission.
Jan. 28, 2020
Spitzer's last day of studying the universe and collecting data.
Jan. 30, 2020
Spitzer will receive a command from ground control at NASA to go into “safe mode,” shutting down all the systems on the telescope.