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Waspie_Dwarf

Spitzer Celebrates Fourth Anniversary

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Spitzer Celebrates Fourth Anniversary with Celestial Fireworks
08.24.07


A newly expanded image of the Helix nebula lends a festive touch to the fourth anniversary of the launch of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. This spectacular object, a dying star unraveling into space, is a favorite of amateur and professional astronomers alike. Spitzer has mapped the expansive outer structure of the six-light-year-wide nebula, and probed the inner region around the central dead star to reveal what appears to be a planetary system that survived the star's chaotic death throes.

Spitzer launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on August 25, 2003. In its four years of operations, Spitzer has provided unprecedented infrared views of objects as diverse as asteroids in our own solar system to galaxies at the edge of the observable universe. Recent discoveries include the first detection of water vapor on a planet orbiting another star and a titanic galactic collision five billion light-years away.

linked-image
Image above: The Helix nebula
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA


"With Spitzer, we have achieved scientific discoveries far beyond our wildest expectations," said Michael Werner, project scientist for Spitzer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "A large part of our success is due to the smooth and efficient operations of the spacecraft."

Another cause for celebration is Spitzer's excellent technical performance. Spitzer is the first infrared space telescope to use an Earth-trailing orbit and passive cooling techniques, such as a sun shield, to obtain the low temperatures required for an infrared observatory. The design allowed for a much smaller tank of liquid-helium coolant, or cryogen, to chill the telescope, thereby slashing mission costs.

The minimum expected lifetime of Spitzer was only two-and-one-half years. Now, Spitzer's cryogen is expected to last much longer, giving the mission a lifetime of more than five-and-one-half years.

"I think it's safe to say that the novel Spitzer design has been validated," said Werner. "We've broken all records for the longest lifetime using the smallest amount of cryogen, and we still have another year and a half to go."

JPL is responsible for the operations of the Spitzer spacecraft, while science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft engineering is carried out by Lockheed Martin, Denver, Colo., with help from Ball Aerospace Corporation, Boulder, Colo.

For more information about Spitzer, visit http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer or http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/spitzer.


Media contact: Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


Source: NASA - Spitzer - News and Media Resources

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Posted (edited)

Noteworthy news. Next year, the ESA will launch Herschel far IR and sub mm telescope (3.5 meter primary mirror). More great science.

I have not looked at Helix nebula images, previously. But, when the article mentioned signs of planets or comets along with the image, I had to bite. Since I did not see any.

The image used frequencies up to 8 microns- great for starlight and hot dust around a larger star, but not so much the area close to a white dwarf. I saw some dust in the inner region (8 microns, red), but it looked like foreground dust from the nebula further out, and in line-of-sight.

After looking at an older version, it was clear where the planet and comet and asteroid type dust should be- closer to the star. In this instance, perhaps even a circumstellar disk. I circled the area where it should appear.

linked-image

The other Spitzer image included 24 microns, and revealed barely warm dust, especially around the star. That is more in keeping with the news, although it was just a lack of detail. At this resolution, no planets are visible, but I assume if they say they are there, the debris disk is evidence of gravity-bound debris- planets, and or collided asteroids, and or comet dust residue.

linked-image

Edited by leadbelly

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Posted (edited)

Noteworthy news. Next year, the ESA will launch Herschel far IR and sub mm telescope (3.5 meter primary mirror). More great science.
I have started a thread to post the latest news on this mission: ESA's Herschel Mission.

But, when the article mentioned signs of planets or comets along with the image, I had to bite. Since I did not see any.
Spitzer is not capable of imaging individual planets and nor does the article claim that this is what was done, it actually says that Spitzer:
probed the inner region around the central dead star to reveal what appears to be a planetary system that survived the star's chaotic death throes.

However planetary systems always have associated disks of dust which shows up in the infra-red. I suspect you are correct when you surmise that what is being imaged is this disc of dust and this is further backed up by the caption to the second image you have posted on NASA's image of the day site (LINK). Here it says:

Spitzer data show the nebula's central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system's Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star's evolution.
Edited by Waspie_Dwarf

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