NASA decommissioned the Spitzer Space Telescope on Thursday (30th January 2020). The signals with the commands to decommission were sent to the telescope on Thursday by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“We leave behind a powerful scientific and technological legacy,” said Spitzer project manager Joseph Hunt, who declared the telescope’s end at 5:34 p.m. EST (2234 GMT) after engineers confirmed that the spacecraft was placed in safe mode, ceasing all science operations. “Everyone who has worked on this mission should be extremely proud today. There are literally hundreds of people who contributed directly to Spitzer’s success, and thousands who used its scientific capabilities to explore the universe.”
Four years back, NASA decided to decommission the Spitzer. This was based on a review of the agency’s current missions by then, and the future missions. The researches which used the telescope will continue with the James Webb Space Telescope when it’s launched in March 2021. Spitzer was originally planned to be shut down in 2018, but it got an extension of two years because the James Webb got delayed.
Spitzer was launched on 2003 August. The telescope was originally named the Space Infrared Telescope facility and was renamed Spitzer Space Telescope after the astronomer Lyman Spitzer. It was his idea to operate telescopes above earth atmosphere in space. The Spitzer was used to make discoveries inside the solar system as well as close to the edge of the universe.
“Spitzer taught us how important infrared light is to understanding our universe, both in our cosmic neighborhood and as far away as the most distant galaxies. The advances we make across many areas in astrophysics in the future will be because of Spitzer’s extraordinary legacy,” Paul Hertz, NASA’s director of astrophysics, said in a statement.
Spitzer collected data about the interstellar dust and exoplanets. Some discoveries like the exoplanets were not originally intended goals. Spitzer was used to finding many Earth-sized exoplanets in the Trappist-1 star system making it the largest batch of Earth-like planets found around a single star. It also was the first to detect molecules in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. It also provided the first measurements of wind and temperature of an exoplanet atmosphere.
“When Spitzer was being designed, scientists had not yet found a single transiting exoplanet, and by the time Spitzer launched, we still knew about only a handful,” said Sean Carey, manager of the Spitzer Science Center at IPAC at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. “The fact that Spitzer became such a powerful exoplanet tool when that wasn’t something the original planners could have possibly prepared for, is really profound. And we generated some results that absolutely knocked our socks off”
The Spitzer was one of the four observatories of NASA. With the decommissioning of Spitzer and Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (decommissioned in 2000), only two more remain in operation. They are the Hubble Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory.