NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spent 15 years in space. To celebrate this anniversary, 15 of Spitzer's biggest discoveries are featured in a gallery.
Launched in a solar circle on August 25, 2003, Spitzer traces the ground and has gradually driven further away from our planet. Spitzer was the final in NASA's four major observatories to reach the space.
# 15: The First Exoplanet Weather Map
Spitzer detects infrared light, which is often emitted by hot items like heat radiation. While Spitzer mission designers never planned to use the observatory to study planets outside our solar system, its infrared vision has proved to be an invaluable tool in this area.
In May 2009, researchers using Spitzer data produced the first "weather map" of an exoplanet – a planet that circles a star other than the sun. This exoplanet weather map charted temperature variations across the surface of a giant gas plane, HD 189733b. In addition, the study showed that roaring winds are likely to whip through the planet's atmosphere. The image above shows an artist's impression of the planet.
Read more: NASA finds extremely hot planet, makes first exoplanet weather map
# 14: Hidden Rocks of Newborn Stars
Infrared light may in most cases penetrate the gas and dust cloud better than visible light. As a result, Spitzer has given unprecedented views in regions where stars are born. This picture from Spitzer shows newborn stars that giggle under their nightly vacuum cleaner in the dark cloud Rho Ophiuchi.
Astronomer is called "Rho Oph", this cloud is one of the closest constellation regions to our own solar system. The nebula is located near the constellations of Scorpius and Ophiuchus in the sky, about 410 light years from the earth.
Read more: Spitzer Catches Young Stars in Their Childhood Vacuum Cleaner
# 13: A Growing Galactic Metropol
In 2011, astronomers who use Spitzer discovered a lot remote collection of galaxies called COSMOS-AzTEC3. The light from this group of galaxies had traveled for more than 12 billion years to reach the earth.
Astronomers believe that such objects, known as a proto cluster, grew into modern galaxy clusters or groups of galaxies bound by gravity. COSMOS-AzTEC3 was the most remote protocol ever discovered. It gives researchers a better idea of how the galaxies were formed and developed during the history of the universe.
Read more: NASA Telescopes Help Identify Remote Remote Galaxy Cluster
# 12: Recipe for Comedy Soup
When NASA's Deep Impact Spacecraft deliberately entered Comet Temple 1 on July 4, 2005, it poured out a cloud of material that contained the ingredients in our solar system's primordial soup. Combining data from Deep Impact with observations of Spitzer, astronomers analyzed the fungus and began to identify ingredients that eventually produced planets, comets and other bodies in our solar system.
Many of the components identified in combustion dust were known coma substances, such as silicates or sand. But there were also surprising ingredients, such as clay, carbonates (found in seashells), iron-bearing compounds and aromatic hydrocarbons found in griddles and auto-blasting on the ground. The study of these ingredients provides valuable clues about the formation of our solar system.
Learn more: How to make Cometsoup
# 11: The largest known ring around Saturn
Saturn's amazing ringing system has been largely photographed The portraits have not revealed the planet's biggest ring. The pointed structure is a diffuse collection of particles that circuit Saturn much further from the planet than any of the other known rings. The ring begins about six million kilometers from the plane. It is about 170 times larger than the diameter of Saturn, and about 20 times thicker than the planet's diameter. If we could see the ring with our eyes, it would be twice as big as the full moon in heaven.
One of Saturn's longest moons, Phoebe, circles the ring and is probably the source of its material. The relatively small number of particles in the ring does not reflect much visible light, especially outside of Saturn's orbit, where the sunlight is weak, so it was so hidden for so long. Spitzer could detect the glow of cold dust in the ring, which has a temperature of about minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 193 degrees Celsius, which is 80 Kelvin. Read more: NASA Space Telescopes Discover the Biggest Ring Around Saturn  # 10: Buckyballs in Space
Buckyballs are spherical columns that have the hexagon-pentagon pattern viewed on the surface of a football. But buckyballs are known for their resemblance to geodesic domes designed by architect Buckminster Fuller. These spherical molecules belong to a class of molecules called buck miners or fullerenes, which have applications in medicine, technology and energy storage.
Spitzer was the first telescope to identify Buckyballs in space. It discovered the spheres in the material about a dying star, or planetary nebula, called Tc 1. The star in the Tc 1 center once once resembled our Sun, but as it aged, it hit its outer layer and left only a dense white dwarf star. Astronomers believe that buckyballs were created in layers of carbon blown away from the star. Follow-up studies using Spitzer data have helped researchers learn more about the existence of these unique carbon structures in nature.
Read more: NASA Telescope Finds Exclusive Spaceballs
# 9: Solar System Smashups
Spitzer has found evidence of several rocky collisions in remote solar systems. These types of collisions were common during our early solar system's early days and played a part in the planet.
In a particular series of observations, Spitzer identified an outbreak of dust around a young star that could be the result of a smashup between two major asteroids. Scientists have already observed the system when the eruption occurred, which marked the first time researchers had collected data about a system both before and after one of these dusty eruptions.
] 8: First "Taste" of Exoplanet Atmospheres
2007 Spitzer became the first telescope for direct Identification of molecules in the atmosphere of the exoplanet. Researchers used a technique called spectroscopy to identify chemical molecules in two different gas exoplanets. Called HD 209458b and HD 189733b, these so-called "hot Jupiters" are made of gas (rather than rock), but circulate much closer to their solar than gas planets in our own solar system. The direct study of the composition of exoplanet atmospheres was a significant step towards the possibility of one day detecting signs of life on rocky exoplanets.
NASA's Spitzer first to crack open light by Faraway Worlds
# 7: Hair Loss Hole
Super massive black holes lurk at the nuclei of most galaxies. Researchers using Spitzer identified two of the most remote super-massive black holes ever discovered and provide an insight into the history of galaxy formation in the universe.
Galactic black holes are usually surrounded by dust and gas structures that feed and support them. These black holes and the discs surrounding them are called quasars. The light of the two quasars Spitzer discovered traveled for 13 billion years to reach the earth, meaning they were formed less than 1 billion years after the birth of the universe.
Learn more: NASA's Spitzer Unearths Primitive Black Holes
# 6: A Distant Planet
In 2010, Spitzer helped researchers discover one of the distant planets as ever discovered and lies about 13,000 light years away from the earth. Most known exoplanets are located within approximately 1000 light years of the earth. The figure above shows these relative distances.
Spitzer performed this task using a terrestrial telescope and a planet-hunting technique called microlining. This approach is based on a phenomenon called gravitational luminance, in which light is bent and enlarged by gravity. When a star passes in front of a more distant star, seen from the ground, the gravity of the foreground star can bend and enlarge the light from the background star. If a planet circles the foreground star, the planet's gravity can contribute to the magnification and leave a distinct impression on the magnified light.
The discovery provides an additional clue for researchers who want to know if the planet's population is as diverse everywhere.
Read more: NASA's Spitzer Spots Planet Deep In Our Galaxy
# 5: First Light from an Exoplanet
Spitzer was the first telescope to instantly observe light from a planet outside our solar system. Prior to that, the exoplanet had only been observed observed. This achievement kicked off a new era in exoplanet science and marked a major milestone on the journey towards discovering possible signs of life on rocky exoplanets.
Two studies released in 2005 reported direct observations of the hot infrared rays from two previously discovered "hot Jupiter" planets, designated HD 209458b and TrES-r1. Hot Jupiters are gas giants similar to Jupiter or Saturn, but are placed extremely close to their parent stars.
Learn more: NASA's Spitzer brands The Beginning of New Age of Planetary Science
# 4: Spotting Small Asteroids
Spitzer Infrared Visibility makes it possible to study some of the most remote objects ever discovered. But this space observation can also be used to study small objects closer to the ground. In particular, Spitzer has helped researchers identify and study Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs). NASA monitors these items to make sure none of them are on a collision course with our planet.
Spitzer is especially useful for characterizing the true sizes of NEAs, as it detects infrared light radiated directly from the asteroids. In comparison, asteroids do not radiate visible light, but only reflects it from the sun; As a result, visible light can reveal how reflective asteroid is, but not necessarily how big it is. Spitzer has been used to study many NEAs less than 110 meters wide.
Learn more: Spitzer Spies a Odd, Tiny Asteroid
# 3: An Unprecedented Map of Milky Way
In 2013, researchers compiled more than 2 million Spitzer images collected over 10 years to create one of the most comprehensive maps of the Milky Way galaxy ever made. Map data came mainly from the Galactic Legacy Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinary 360 project (GLIMPSE360).
Looking at Winter Street is a challenge for dust to block visible light, so the entire galaxy's areas are hidden from the view. But infrared light can often penetrate dusty areas better than visible light, and reveal hidden parts of the galaxy.
Studies of the Milky Way galaxy using Spitzer data have provided researchers with better maps of the galaxy's spiral structure and its central "bar" of the stars. Spitzer has helped discover new distant places of star formation and has shown a higher abundance of carbon in the galaxy than expected. The GLIMPSE360 Map continues to guide astronomers in their exploration of our home galaxies.
Read more: NASA's Spitzer telescope gives 360-degree view of the galaxy to our fingertips
# 2: "Great Galaxies"
Spitzer has made major contributions to the study of some of the earliest forming galaxies ever studied. The light from these galaxies takes billions of years to reach the earth, and so scientists see them as they were billions years ago. The most distant galaxies Spitzer observed radiated the light 13.4 billion years ago or less than 400 million years after the birth of the universe.
One of the most surprising discoveries in this area of research was the discovery of "big baby" galaxies, or those who were much larger and more mature than scientists thought that early-forming galaxies could be. Researchers believe that large modern galaxies are formed by the gradual merger of smaller galaxies. But the great galaxies showed that massive collections of stars came together very early in the history of the universe.
Read more: NASA finds "Galaxies" in the Newborn Universe
# 1: Seven Planet Plans Around A Single Star
Seven planet solutions surround the star as is known as TRAPPIST-1. The largest batch of planet earth plan solutions ever discovered in a single system, has been inspired by researchers as well as non-scientists. Three of the planets are located in the "habitable zone" around the star, where temperatures may be supported by floating water on a plane's surface. The discovery represents an important step in the search for life beyond our solar system.
Researchers observed the TRAPPIST-1 system for over 500 hours with Spitzer to determine how many planets that circle the star. The telescope's infrared vision was perfect for studying the TRAPPIST-1 star, which is much colder than our Sun. The researchers observed weak dips in the star's light as the seven planets passed in front of them. Spitzer's observations have also enabled researchers to learn the size and mass of these planets, which can be used to limit what the planets can consist of.
Read more: NASA telescope reveals largest part of earth size, solar planets around one star