The Tarantula Nebula as seen by the Spitzer Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On Thursday, NASA will shut down the Spitzer Space Telescope, ending a mission that transformed how we understand the invisible machinations of the universe.

Why it matters: While the telescope is still able to function today, NASA made the decision to shut it down, saying $14 million per year is too high a cost for its diminishing science return as the observatory will likely be inoperable soon.

What Spitzer found: The telescope was able to see in infrared light, revealing new information about distant galaxies and even planets orbiting stars far from our Sun during its more than 16 years in space.

  • The telescope found a never-before-observed ring around Saturn. The ring is made out of a smattering of dust particles that were relatively easy to see in infrared light, but difficult to see in other wavelengths, NASA said.
  • Spitzer also created the first map showing the atmosphere of an exoplanet — a world orbiting a star other than the Sun.
  • And the telescope measured the composition of the dust from comet Tempel 1 that was flung into space after NASA's Deep Impact probe crashed into the comet in 2005, giving scientists a glimpse of what the object was made out of.
"It allowed us to see what our human eyes could not see,"
— Farisa Morales, a Spitzer Space Telescope scientist, said during a press event

Background: Spitzer's shutdown is happening at a time when the future of astrophysics at NASA is somewhat uncertain.

  • The agency is expected to launch its next flagship space observatory — the James Webb Space Telescope — next year, after years of delays and budget overruns.
  • Astronomers and astrophysicists are now working to help set NASA's scientific priorities in the coming decade as well, as researchers debate whether big, expensive missions are the way to go.

Go deeper: Astronomy's existential crisis

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 30,199,007 — Total deaths: 946,490— Total recoveries: 20,544, 967Map
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 6,675,593 — Total deaths: 197,644 — Total recoveries: 2,540,334 — Total tests: 90,710,730Map
  3. Politics: Former Pence aide says she plans to vote for Joe Biden, accusing Trump of costing lives in his coronavirus response.
  4. Health: Pew: 49% of Americans wouldn't get COVID-19 vaccine if available today Pandemic may cause cancer uptick The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine — COVID-19 racial disparities extend to health coverage losses.
  5. Business: Retail sales return to pre-coronavirus trend.
Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Mike Bloomberg's anti-chaos theory

CNN's Anderson Cooper questions Joe Biden last night at a drive-in town hall in Moosic, Pa., outside Scranton. Photo: CNN

Mike Bloomberg's $100 million Florida blitz begins today and will continue "wall to wall" in all 10 TV markets through Election Day, advisers tell me.

Why it matters: Bloomberg thinks that Joe Biden putting away Florida is the most feasible way to head off the national chaos we could have if the outcome of Trump v. Biden remained uncertain long after Election Day.

Biden's hardline Russia reset

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Getty Images photos: Mark Reinstein

When he talks about Russia, Joe Biden has sounded like Ronald Reagan all summer, setting up a potential Day 1 confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin if Biden were to win.

Why it matters: Biden has promised a forceful response against Russia for both election interference and alleged bounty payments to target American troops in Afghanistan. But being tougher than President Trump could be the easy part. The risk is overdoing it and making diplomacy impossible.