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The best of the Spitzer Space Telescope

Published 5:08 AM ET, Thu January 30, 2020
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For 16 years, the Spitzer Space Telescope acted as our infrared detective, observing things otherwise invisible -- including exoplanets and distant galaxies. Here are some of the best images and illustrations created using Spitzer data. NASA
The discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 system revealed seven Earth-size, rocky planets orbiting a single star. Robert Hurt and Tim Pyle presented this illustration when the discovery was announced to showcase the habitable zone of the star -- too close and the planets are too hot for liquid water to remain on the surface, while more distance from the star means water would freeze. NASA
This illustration of the TRAPPIST planets reveals more about how their surfaces might appear. NASA
This illustration shows what it might be like to stand on the surface of TRAPPIST-1f, with liquid water on the surface and other planets visible in the sky. NASA
This infrared image from Spitzer shows a cloud of gas and dust full of bubbles, which are inflated by wind and radiation from massive young stars. Each bubble is filled with hundreds to thousands of stars, which form from dense clouds of gas and dust. JPL-Caltech/NASA
The dreamy spiral galaxy M81 is presented in crisp detail thanks to a collaboration between Spitzer, Hubble and NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer. NASA
Spitzer captured hundreds of thousands of stars as they swirl at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. NASA
This illustration shows what HD 219134b might look like, the nearest confirmed rocky exoplanet found outside of our solar system. NASA
This image shows an artist's impression of 10 hot Jupiter exoplanets. Clockwise from top left to lower left, these planets are WASP-12b, WASP-6b, WASP-31b, WASP-39b, HD 189733b, HAT-P-12b, WASP-17b, WASP-19b, HAT-P-1b and HD 209458b. Hot Jupiters were some of the first exoplanets to be discovered. Although they're in orbits too close to their stars to support life on the planet's surface, these intriguing gas giants are unlike any planet in our solar system. NASA
Spitzer highlighted dust clouds and newborn stars in this image of the "Lagoon nebula." Astronomers estimate it to be between 4,000 and 6,000 light-years away, lying in the general direction of the center of our galaxy in the constellation Sagittarius. NASA
Spitzer began its mission by looking at dust, especially the gas and dust in disks surrounding stars, where planets are born. This illustration reveals that process. NASA
This illustration shows an "iceball" exoplanet found by Spitzer. NASA
Messier 94 is a stunning galaxy about 17 million light years away. This Spitzer image showcases what appears to be multiple rings, but astronomers think it's an optical illusion and that there's really just one. NASA
This illustration shows a brown dwarf detected in a microlensing event when it passed between Earth and a more distant star in the Milky Way. Spitzer and NASA's Swift mission observed the event. NASA
This illustration shows an exoplanet and debris orbiting a dead star, known as a white dwarf. NASA
Spitzer was able to image newborn stars, like these cloaked in dust from the Rho Ophiuchi dark cloud. NASA
This image of the Pinwheel Galaxy combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and x-rays from four of NASA's space telescopes, revealing young and old stars. NASA
This illustration reveals how Spitzer can help astronomers learn about exoplanet atmospheres. When they pass in front of their stars, or transit, the light passing through their atmospheres reveals information. NASA
The Dumbbell nebula is what's left after a star similar to our sun exploded. The details of it are revealed in infrared by Spitzer. NASA
Spitzer peered into galaxy NGC 1291 and spied activity. The outer red ring is the result of new stars heating up dust, causing it to glow in the infrared. NASA
This illustration shows 55 Cancri e, a lava world spied by Spitzer that experiences wild temperature shifts. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This vibrant image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our own Milky Way galaxy. JPL-Caltech/STScI/NASA
This coiled galaxy looks like a literal eye in the sky, through Spitzer's perspective. NASA
This artist's illustration depicts the exoplanet LHS 3844b, which is 1.3 times the mass of Earth and orbits an M dwarf star. The planet's surface may be covered mostly in dark lava rock, with no apparent atmosphere. R. Hurt/NASA
This illustration shows a cool star, called W1906+40, marked by a raging storm near one of its poles. The storm is thought to be similar to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Scientists discovered it using NASA's Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This star cluster called Omega Centauri, imaged by Spitzer, is home to millions of stars. NASA
This illustration, created based on data from Spitzer and the Kepler Space Telescopes, shows a star behind a shattered comet, which creates an anomaly in space. Illustration/NASA
This Spitzer image shows the Tarantula Nebula in two wavelengths of infrared light. The red regions indicate the presence of particularly hot gas, while the blue regions are interstellar dust. JPL-Caltech/NASA