How NASA's Webb Telescope will continue Spitzer's legacy

phys.org | 8/25/2003 | Staff
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As one window to the universe closes, another will open with an even better view. Some of the same planets, stars and galaxies we first saw through the first window will appear in even sharper detail in the one that will soon open.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope concludes its mission on Jan. 30, 2020, after more than 16 extraordinary years of exploration. The telescope has made many discoveries beyond the imaginations of its designers, such as planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets, and galaxies that formed close to the beginning of the universe. Many of Spitzer's breakthroughs will be studied more precisely with the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to launch in 2021.

Lot - Questions - Universe - Spitzer - Michael

"We have a lot of new questions to ask about the universe because of Spitzer," said Michael Werner, Spitzer project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "It's very gratifying to know there's such a powerful set of capabilities coming along to follow up on what we've been able to start with Spitzer."

Both Webb and Spitzer are specialized for infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes. But with its giant gold-coated beryllium mirror and nine new technologies, Webb is about 1,000 times more powerful. The forthcoming telescope will be able to push Spitzer's science findings to new frontiers, from identifying chemicals in exoplanet atmospheres to locating some of the first galaxies to form after the Big Bang.

Discoveries - Spitzer - Pathfinder - Webb - Terms

Beyond its discoveries, Spitzer is also a pathfinder for Webb in terms of how to operate a telescope of this kind. In order to measure infrared light with high sensitivity, a telescope must be very cold. Spitzer has shown engineers how an infrared observatory behaves in the vastness of space and what temperatures mission planners should expect to grapple with for Webb.

"Having a huge telescope...
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