NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has received the 2014 AIAA Space Science Award for its ongoing infrared studies of the hidden cosmos. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, or AIAA, a society for the field of aerospace engineering, established the award in 1961 for "individuals demonstrating leadership of innovative scientific investigation associated with space science missions."
Michael Werner, the project scientist for Spitzer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, accepted the award on behalf of the Spitzer team today, Aug. 7, at the AIAA Space and Astronautics Forum in San Diego.
The citation for the award reads: "For outstanding science producing over 5,000 papers, 75,000+ hours of observation, and significant findings such as the first telescope to directly detect light from extrasolar planets."
Spitzer, which launched into space in 2003, continues to be one of the best telescopes for studying the atmospheres of exoplanets, or extrasolar planets -- planets outside our solar system. In 2005, it made the first-ever measurements of direct light from such a far-off world.
Now, in Spitzer's "warm" phase -- its coolant ran out in 2009 as planned -- Spitzer continues to collect and analyze light from exoplanets, setting the stage for future telescopes to use similar techniques on even smaller worlds more akin to Earth. In addition, the observatory's heat-sensitive infrared vision is used for other types of objects, both in our solar system and billions of light-years away.
"In the coming years, as the mission continues, we will be studying the most distant galaxies, exoplanets orbiting nearby stars, and small bodies in our own solar system," said Werner. "We are continuing to lay the foundation for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope."
JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.