May 21, 2019

NASA will end the Spitzer Space Telescope's mission in 2020

Artist's concept of the Spitzer Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech-ESA/Hubble/Digitized Sky Survey 2

The long-running Spitzer Space Telescope is nearing the end of its mission, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced in a quietly posted blog entry on May 16. The spacecraft's last day of operations is set for Jan. 30, 2020.

Why it matters: Spitzer transformed our understanding of the universe. The telescope — which looks out at the universe in infrared light — has helped astronomers clock the expansion of the universe, map the Milky Way and discover black holes.

The telescope has been a workhorse for NASA, beaming home images and discoveries for 16 years.

Details: According to a tweet from Aviation Week & Space Technology editor Irene Klotz, NASA considered "private entities" to take over operations of the telescope, "but none could secure funding."

  • Scientists and members of the public are now posting remembrances of the telescope on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #spitzerfinalvoyage.
  • NASA is planning to launch its next infrared observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, to orbit in 2021.

But, but, but: While the spacecraft's mission is ending, the science from it will not. Scientists will still be able to analyze and reanalyze the data Spitzer beamed to Earth during its long life in space.

What they're saying: "The people who operate the observatory are a family and we are surrounded by our cousins, the science community who have so creatively driven the science of the mission," Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, Spitzer project manager, wrote in the blog post announcing the end of the mission. "When I started on this path I could not have imagined how rewarding this journey would be."

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