Spitzer space telescope legacy — ScienceDaily


To understand the significance of the Spitzer Space Telescope on the understanding of our solar system, think of what the steam engine meant for the industrial revolution.

A national team of scientists today published in the journal Nature Astronomy two papers that provide an inventory of the major discoveries made possible thanks to Spitzer and offer guidance on where the next generation of explorers should point the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) when it launches in October 2021.

“The Spitzer Space Telescope made many important discoveries in the solar system during its 16 year-long mission, and it is important to capture the highlights of these with useful references for future scientists to use in their research,” says Carey M. Lisse, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, lead author of one paper.

Lisse, a planetary astronomer, put together the team of 27 authors who penned the legacy papers. The authors were selected based on the significant discoveries they made using Spitzer during its 16-year mission. The team includes three University of Central Florida researchers, who offer suggestions for the next space telescope mission.

David Trilling, a planetary scientist and professor at Northern Arizona University, is the lead author on the second paper.

When Spitzer launched in 2003 it contained infrared detectors of unprecedented sensitivity, providing astronomers a never-before-possible look at the universe. Thanks to observations by Spitzer over the years, scientists gained new insights into, for example, the composition of comets, the icy surfaces of cold, distant bodies beyond Neptune, the heat radiation given off by asteroids, the extent of free-floating dust in the inner solar system, and the composition and properties of the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune. Spitzer even managed to discover a new ring of Saturn! The much-delayed JWST, which will likewise study the infrared cosmos, is