On 30 January 2020, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was retired from orbital operations. Since its launch in August 2003, Spitzer’s sensitive infrared instruments have enabled it to study cold, dusty and distant objects in unprecedented detail. Here are some of its best images…
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North America Nebula
This view of the North America Nebula was made by combining images created using visible light (blue) and infrared (red and green). It shows clusters of young stars aged between one and five million years old.
The spiral galaxy Messier 81 is located 12 million light-years from Earth in the northern constellation of Ursa Major, which also includes the Plough. It is easily visible through a pair of good binoculars. This image has been specially processed to isolate the distribution of dust throughout. The dust particles are composed of silicates – chemicals that are similar to the sand you’d find on a beach.
The eye-like Helix Nebula is located about 700 light-years from Earth. It is a planetary nebula – an expanding shell of ionised gas that is created when the internal fuel supply of a Sun-like star runs out, leaving the outer layers to puff out. The Sun will follow a similar fate in about five billion years.
This image shows Messier 106, also known as NGC 4258, a spiral galaxy located 23 million light-years away from Earth. It was first discovered by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781.
The giant star Zeta Ophiuchi is 20 times more massive and 80,000 times brighter than the Sun. It has a huge shock wave at its fore, created by raging winds that flow from it. This infrared image shows its vast scale.