Tag Archives: Spitzer Space Telescope

The Whirlpool Galaxy across many wavelengths

The Whirlpool Galaxy
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The sequence of images above, reduced to post here, were taken in multiple wavelengths by the 2.1 meter Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona and the Spitzer Space Telescope in orbit.

The Whirlpool galaxy, also known as Messier 51 and NGC 5194/5195, is actually a pair of galaxies that are tugging and distorting each other through their mutual gravitational attraction. Located approximately 23 million light-years away, it resides in the constellation Canes Venatici.

The leftmost panel shows the Whirlpool in visible light, much as our eye might see it through a powerful telescope. In fact, this image comes from the Kitt Peak National Observatory 2.1-meter (6.8-foot) telescope. The spiraling arms are laced with dark threads of dust that radiate little visible light and obscure stars positioned within or behind them.

The second panel from the left includes two visible-light wavelengths (in blue and green) from Kitt Peak but adds Spitzer’s infrared data in red. This emphasizes how the dark dust veins that block our view in visible light begin to light up at these longer, infrared wavelengths.

Spitzer’s full infrared view can be seen in the right two panels, which cover slightly different ranges of infrared light.

The infrared views of the Whirlpool galaxy also show how dramatically different its two component parts are: The smaller companion galaxy at the top of the image has been stripped nearly clean of dust features that stand out so brilliantly in the lower spiral galaxy. The faint bluish haze seen around the upper galaxy is likely the blended light from stars thrown out of the galaxies as these two objects pull at each other during their close approach.

The Spitzer images above are likely among the last we shall see from that telescope, which has been in orbit since 2003 with a planned mission of only 2.5 years. As its cryogenic coolant became depleted in 2009, it has been functioning in a somewhat limited phase since. NASA will officially end the mission on January 30, 2020, more than thirteen years beyond that initial lifespan.

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Chandra looks back at the Crab Nebula

Link here. It is almost twenty years since the Chandra X-Ray Observatory was launched, and in celebration the science team have released another X-ray image of the Crab Nebula, taken in 2017 in league with an optical image from the Hubble Space Telescope and an infrared image from the Spitzer Space Telescope. They have also provided links to all similar past images, going back to 1999.

Some of the images are actually videos, in 2002 and 2011, showing the Crab’s dynamic nature. You can actually see flares and waves of radiation rippling out from its center.

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NASA wants private company to take over Spitzer Space Telescope

NASA has issued a request for proposals from private companies or organizations to take over the operation of the Spitzer Space Telescope after 2019.

NASA’s current plans call for operating Spitzer through March of 2019 to perform preparatory observations for the James Webb Space Telescope. That schedule was based on plans for a fall 2018 launch of JWST, which has since been delayed to the spring of 2019. Under that plan, NASA would close out the Spitzer mission by fiscal year 2020. That plan was intended to save NASA the cost of running Spitzer, which is currently $14 million a year. The spacecraft itself, though, remains in good condition and could operating well beyond NASA’s current plan.

“The observatory and the IRAC instrument are in excellent health. We don’t have really any issues with the hardware,” said Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, Spitzer project manager, in a presentation to the committee Oct. 18. IRAC is the Infrared Array Camera, an instrument that continues operations at its two shortest wavelengths long after the spacecraft exhausted the supply of liquid helium coolant.

The spacecraft’s only consumable is nitrogen gas used for the spacecraft’s thrusters, and Storrie-Lombardi said the spacecraft still had half its supply of nitrogen 14 years after launch.

The way a private organization could make money on this is to charge astronomers and research projects for observation time. This could work, since there is usually a greater demand for research time than available observatories.

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Spitzer spots asteroid collision

A monitoring program of a young star by the Spitzer Space Telescope has paid off with evidence of a major collision between asteroids in the debris disk that surrounds the star.

Scientists had been regularly tracking the star, called NGC 2547-ID8, when it surged with a huge amount of fresh dust between August 2012 and January 2013. “We think two big asteroids crashed into each other, creating a huge cloud of grains the size of very fine sand, which are now smashing themselves into smithereens and slowly leaking away from the star,” said lead author and graduate student Huan Meng of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

While dusty aftermaths of suspected asteroid collisions have been observed by Spitzer before, this is the first time scientists have collected data before and after a planetary system smashup. The viewing offers a glimpse into the violent process of making rocky planets like ours.

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Short of money for astrophysics because of the overruns on the James Webb Space Telescope as well as federal budget woes, NASA has decided to shut down the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Short of money for astrophysics because of the overruns on the James Webb Space Telescope as well as federal budget woes, NASA has decided to shut down the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Other missions, such as Kepler, Chandra, Hubble, NuStar, and Swift got extensions, however.

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Using images from the Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have assembled a 360 degree zoomable portrait of the plane of the Milky Way galaxy.

Using images from the Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have assembled a 360 degree zoomable portrait of the plane of the Milky Way galaxy.

The image is in infrared, which is why it can see parts of the galaxy obscured by dust in visible wavelengths, and you can explore it at your leisure, from home.

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Astronomers have discovered the first exoplanet smaller than Earth.

Astronomers have discovered the first exoplanet smaller than Earth.

The University of Central Florida has detected what could be its first planet, only two-thirds the size of Earth and located right around the corner, cosmically speaking, at a mere 33-light years away. The exoplanet candidate called UCF 1.01, is close to its star, so close it goes around the star in 1.4 days. The planet’s surface likely reaches temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The discoverers believe that it has no atmosphere, is only two-thirds the gravity of Earth and that its surface may be volcanic or molten.

What is especially remarkable about this discovery is that the scientists used the Spitzer Space Telescope to do it, detecting the planet’s transits across the star’s face, just like Kepler. Spitzer was not designed to be able to do this.

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It doesn’t exist

Fomalhaut b

In a preprint paper published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website, astronomers have concluded that the exoplanet orbiting the star Formalhaut might not exist. This planet, the first exoplanet ever thought to be directly imaged in visible light, was first described in a paper published in 2008, and was actually tracked in its orbit over several years, as shown in the image on the right.

The new research used the Spitzer Space Telescope to see if the planet’s heat could be detected in infrared wavelengths. Unfortunately, the scientists found nothing.
» Read more

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