10 Years of Incredible Photos from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope
For 10 years, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has been helping scientists on Earth learn more about the mysterious objects hiding in our star-studded skies. On August 25, 2003, the telescope, carrying a relatively small, 0.85-meter beryllium mirror, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Since then, it’s been trailing the Earth on its orbit around the sun, like NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.
Spitzer stares at the heavens in infrared wavelengths, revealing the cold, distant, and dusty realms of the universe, normally invisible to eyes on Earth. In this gallery, ribbons of dust wind around massive stars, the cavities carved by hot, young stars open up like bottomless caverns, and the spiraling tendrils of a distant galaxy glisten behind a foreground nebula.
- Helix Nebula - About 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, the white dwarf star (visible in the very center), is the dead remnant of what was once a star like the sun. The bright red glow immediately around it is probably the dust kicked up by colliding comets that survived the death of their stellar host.
- The Wing of the Small Magellanic Cloud - This is a region known as the “Wing” of the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s satellite dwarf galaxies. Here, Chandra X-Ray Observatory data are in purple, optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope are shown in red, green and blue, and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope are shown in red.
- Zeta Ophiuchi - A giant star zooming through space at 54,000 miles per hour creates a bowshock – ripples that are the result of billowing stellar winds colliding with the dust ahead of it. About 370 light-years away, it is 80,000 times brighter than the sun. It would be one of the brightest stars in the sky, but it’s invisible from Earth obscured by dust and clouds.
- M81 - Messier 81, a relatively nearby galaxy that’s just 12 million light-years distant, is a gorgeous spiral located the northern sky in Ursa Major.
- Bright Superbubble - Massive stars grow quickly and die young, exploding in radiant supernovae. A large cluster of these hot, young stars will generate stellar winds and shock waves that carve superbubbles into the fabric of their nurseries, like the ones seen here, about 160,000 light-years away in NGC 1929.
- Galactic Merger - The cores of two merging galaxies form what appear to be giant blue eyes, peering out from behind a swirling red mask. Galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163, located about 140 million light-years from Earth, began merging relatively recently – about 40 million years ago. Eventually, the pair will form a giant cycloptic eye.