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NASA’s Spitzer telescope takes a final spectacular view of the Tarantula Nebula

NASA’s Spitzer telescope takes a last spectacular view of the Tarantula Nebula as it prepares to retire on January 30 after 16 years of service

  • The Spitzer Space Telescope is an infrared observatory and was launched in 2003
  • It was built to study the cold, ancient and dusty regions of the universe.
  • The Tarantula Nebula was the first region of space observed by the telescope.

NASA’s Spitzer telescope takes a final spectacular view of the Tarantula Nebula while preparing to retire on January 30 after 16 years of service.

The high-resolution image of the star formation region, named for its spider gas filaments, is composed of data from various observations made by the telescope.

It is a proper farewell to the infrared observatory, since the first target that was given to observe after the launch was the Tarantula Nebula.

The impressive image shows the full extent of Spitzer’s capabilities, according to project scientist Michael Werner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The nebula is represented in two wavelengths of infrared light, with the red area showing hot gas and blue regions highlighting interstellar dust.

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The Tarantula Nebula shows the full extent of Spitzer's capabilities, according to project scientist Michael Werner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The Tarantula Nebula shows the full extent of Spitzer’s capabilities, according to project scientist Michael Werner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Spitzer has observed the Tarantula Nebula, which is found in the nearby dwarf galaxy, the Great Magellanic Cloud, dozens of times since it was launched 16 years ago.

“That region has many interesting dust structures and a lot of star formation,” Werner said.

“Those are the two areas where infrared observatories can see many things that cannot be seen in other wavelengths.”

Infrared light is not visible to the human eye, but it can pass through clouds of gas and dust at some wavelengths, in a way that visible light cannot.

Scientists use infrared observations to see newborn stars and protostars that still form, wrapped in clouds of gas and dust from which they formed.

The Tarantula Nebula is a hotbed of star formation, according to NASA. It is also a particularly interesting region for infrared observations.

Studying the data captured by Spitzer in the region over the past decade and a half has helped scientists better understand star formation in the Milky Way.

The nebula also houses R136, a region of ‘stellar explosion’, where massive stars form in an extremely close proximity and at a much higher rate than in the rest of the galaxy.

Within R136, in an area less than a light year in diameter, there are more than 40 massive stars, each with at least 50 times the mass of our Sun.

This annotated image of NASA's Spitzer space telescope shows the tarantula nebula in infrared light. Supernova 1987A and starburst region R136 are observed

This annotated image of NASA's Spitzer space telescope shows the tarantula nebula in infrared light. Supernova 1987A and starburst region R136 are observed

This annotated image of NASA’s Spitzer space telescope shows the tarantula nebula in infrared light. Supernova 1987A and starburst region R136 are observed

On the contrary, there are no stars at all within a light year from the Sun: the closest is Proxima Centauri, which is 4.3 light years away.

It is not only the star formations that have interested researchers studying the Tarantula Nebula. On the outskirts it is one of the most studied stars in astronomy.

Nicknamed 1987A, it was the first supernova discovered in 1978 and exploded with the power of 100 million soles, burning for months.

Spitzer was designed to study “the cold, the old and the dusty,” three things astronomers can observe particularly well with infrared light.

It has been at the center of several important discoveries during its 16-year lifespan, including the discovery of Jupiter as exoplanets.

He has revealed previously hidden characteristics of known cosmic objects that encompass our own solar system and approach the edge of the universe.

“Spitzer taught us how important infrared light is to understand our universe, both in our own cosmic neighborhood and in the more distant galaxies,” said Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA headquarters.

“The advances we make in many areas of astrophysics in the future will be due to Spitzer’s extraordinary legacy.”

Spitzer was one of NASA’s four Great Observatories that launched into space, each capturing a different frequency or wavelength.

They include the Chandra X-ray observatory, the Hubble space telescope and the Compton gamma-ray observatory. So far only Compton has been exorbitant.

WHAT IS THE SPRITZER SPACE TELESCOPE?

The Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Installation of the Space Infrared Telescope, is an infrared cousin of the Hubble Space Telescope.

It consists of a cryogenic space telescope cooled with a light optic that delivers light to large-format advanced infrared detector assemblies.

It is able to study objects that range from our solar system to the ends of the universe.

Looking back at the primitive universe, observe young galaxies and form stars.

The Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Installation of the Space Infrared Telescope, is an infrared cousin of the Hubble Space Telescope (artist's impression). The band of light in this image is the bright dust of the Milky Way seen at 100 microns.

The Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Installation of the Space Infrared Telescope, is an infrared cousin of the Hubble Space Telescope (artist's impression). The band of light in this image is the bright dust of the Milky Way seen at 100 microns.

The Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Installation of the Space Infrared Telescope, is an infrared cousin of the Hubble Space Telescope (artist’s impression). The band of light in this image is the bright dust of the Milky Way seen at 100 microns.

It is also used to detect dust discs around the stars, considered an important indicator of planetary formation.

The mission is the fourth and final observatory under NASA’s Great Observatories program.

This mission also includes the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

It was launched into orbit around the sun, behind the Earth, drifting in a benign thermal environment.

By using this orbit, the spacecraft can adopt an innovative “hot launch” architecture, in which only the instrument’s payload is cooled at launch.

By using special deep-space cooling, Spitzer can transport much less liquid helium than any previous infrared mission, which substantially reduces mission development costs.

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