Image credit: NASA
NASA?s recently launched Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) passed an important milestone this week when it was successfully focused. The fourth, and last, of NASA?s great observatory has been in space since it was launched on August 25, and since then, it?s been slowly cooling down. The telescope is now only five degrees above Absolute Zero ? this will let it pick up the faint infrared emissions from distant objects in space without seeing its own heat. The observatory will eventually reveal previously unseen objects obscured by gas and dust.
The Space Infrared Telescope Facility, NASA’s fourth and final Great Observatory, has been successfully focused. This crucial milestone ? which will enable the observatory’s infrared eyes to see the cosmos in clear detail ? was achieved after a series of delicate adjustments were made to the telescope’s secondary mirror.
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Since launch on Aug. 25, the Space Infrared Telescope Facility has performed as expected, proceeding through in-orbit checkout activities on schedule. In addition to achieving final focus, the telescope has cooled to an operating temperature of approximately 5 Kelvin (-268 Celsius or -451 Fahrenheit). This cold temperature will allow the observatory to detect the infrared radiation, or heat, from celestial objects without picking up its own infrared signature.
“The science community now has an outstanding observatory with which to study the universe,” said Dr. Michael Werner, project scientist for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We are eager to complete the fine-tuning of the observatory and begin the science program.”
In-orbit checkout activities are scheduled to continue for 11 more days, after which a one-month science verification phase will occur. Following this, the science program will begin.
From its innovative Earth-trailing orbit around the Sun, the Space Infrared Telescope Facility will pierce the dusty darkness enshrouding much of the universe, revealing galaxies billions of light years away; brown dwarfs, or failed stars; and planet-forming discs around stars.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Space Infrared Telescope Facility for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Further information about the Space Infrared Telescope Facility is available at http://sirtf.caltech.edu/.
Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release