By Robert Hurt | August 24th, 2012
Tonight at 10:35 PM PDT NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope turns nine... measured from the moment it lifted from the launch pad at the Kennedy Spaceflight Center. It's been an amazing ride for everyone working on Spitzer, one that started the moment the Delta rocket launched.
Today, Spitzer's Earth-trailing orbit has taken it to a distance that is slightly longer than the distance to the sun. And at 9 years we are of course long past the 2.5 year nominal primary mission, and even the cryogenic part of the mission stretched out to over 5.5 years. This year NASA extended funding for Spitzer out to 2016 so there is even more to come.
Looking over the last year we continue to see the legacy of infrared astronomy grow. Results from both archival data and recent observations continue to make the news, spanning observations of exoplanets orbiting near-by stars out to hints of the most distant, early galaxies in the universe. Spitzer has helped to figure out how galaxies grow as their central black holes snack on quick meals of gas and dust, has photographed the birthplaces of hundreds of newly forming stars, and has even been used in a new method of weighing asteroids as they hurtle through space. In studying other stars it has found signs of a comet storm in a young solar system, has detected the light from a "super Earth," and discovered a possible new planet only 33 light years away.
Back on the ground, here at the Spitzer Science Center, we've hosted another 15 teachers who have carried out some amazing research projects as part of the NITARP program. On top of that, many of you have been involved with our research as "Citizen Scientists," helping us discover bubbles in Spitzer's images of the Milky Way.
Many thanks to everyone who has come along with us on this ride, whether you've worked with Spitzer, signed up for our citizen science projects, used our images in your classrooms and outreach, or just love reading our news and seeing our new images. We're looking forward to the start of another year with you all. For now, please join us in wishing Spitzer a happy 9th birthday!