Could We Resurrect the Spitzer Space Telescope?

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope ceased operations in 2020. A new mission might bring it back to life. Image Credit: Rhea Space Activity

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope served the astronomy community well for 16 years. From its launch in 2003 to the end of its operations in January 2020, its infrared observations fuelled scientific discoveries too numerous to list.

Infrared telescopes need to be kept cool to operate, and eventually, it ran out of coolant. But that wasn’t the end of the mission; it kept operating in ‘warm’ mode, where observations were limited. Its mission only ended when it drifted too far away from Earth to communicate effectively.

Now the US Space Force thinks they can reboot the telescope.

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Astronomers Image the Atmosphere of a Red Dwarf Planet for the First Time. Spoiler Alert, it’s a Terrible Place to Live

An artist's conception of The Earth-sized exoplanet LHS 3844b which orbits a small star 49 light-years from Earth. It may be covered in dark volcanic rock, according to observations by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The Spitzer data also suggest the planet has little to no atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

The field of exoplanet research continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Thanks to missions like the Kepler Space Telescope, over four-thousand planets have been discovered beyond our Solar System, with more being confirmed all the time. Thanks to these discoveries and all that we’ve learned from them, the focus has begun to transition from the process of discovery to characterization.

For instance, a group of astronomers was able to image the surface of a planet orbiting a red dwarf star for the first time. Using data from the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, the team was able to provide a rare glimpse at the conditions on the planet’s surface. And while those conditions were rather inhospitable – akin to something like Hades, but with less air to breathe – this represents a major breakthrough in the study of exoplanets.

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