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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 7 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

9 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.