By Balaram Menon 10:26 am PST
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NASA has bid goodbye to the Spitzer space telescope after 16 years of service using infrared light to unveil otherwise invisible features of the universe, including seven planets the size of Earth around the star Trappist-1. | This composite image made available by NASA shows the cluster NGC 2024, which is found in the center of the Flame Nebula about 1,400 light years from Earth. Stars are often born in clusters or groups, in giant clouds of gas and dust.

Since it launched on August 25, 2003, Spitzer has provided unique contributions to science. It gave us new views of distant galaxies, newborn stars and nearby exoplanets, as well as of asteroids, comets and other objects in our solar system. | This image made available by NASA shows fledgling stars hidden in the gas and clouds of the Orion nebula, captured by infrared observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Herschel mission. In several hundred thousand years, some of the forming stars will accrete enough material to trigger nuclear fusion at their cores.

It’s infrared cameras have observed the universe in a light imperceptible to human senses, providing otherwise unattainable visions of the sky. | An infrared image provided by NASA and captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2008 shows Messier 101, or the Pinwheel Galaxy, which is 170,000 light-years across and twice the diameter of the Milky Way.

In what may look to some like an undersea image of coral and seaweed, a new image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope is showing the birth and death of stars. In this view, infrared data from Spitzer are green and blue, while longer-wavelength infrared light from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) are red. The stringy, seaweed-like filaments are the blown out remnants of a star that exploded in a supernova. The billowy clouds seen in pink are sites of massive star formation. Clusters of massive stars can be seen lighting up the clouds, and a bubble carved out from massive stars is seen near the bottom. This region contains portions of what are known as the W3 and W5 star-forming regions. In this image, Spitzer’s 3.6- and 4.5-micron data are blue and green, respectively, while WISE’s 12-micron data are red.

This combination of photos made available by NASA shows the spiral galaxy Messier 81 (M81) viewed in two different types of infrared wavelengths showing the the light from the stars in the galaxy, left, and the distribution of dust particles without starlight. The dust particles are composed of silicates (chemically similar to beach sand), carbonaceous grains and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and trace the gas distribution in the galaxy.

Astronomers have made the most detailed study yet of an extremely massive young galaxy cluster using three of NASA’s Great Observatories. This multi-wavelength image shows this galaxy cluster, called IDCS J1426.5+3508 (IDCS 1426 for short), in X-rays recorded by the Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue, visible light observed by the Hubble Space Telescope in green, and infrared light detected by the Spitzer Space Telescope in red. This rare galaxy cluster, which is located 10 billion light-years from Earth, is almost as massive as 500 trillion suns.

The spider part of “The Spider and the Fly” nebulae, IC 417 abounds in star formation, as seen in this infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). Located in the constellation Auriga, IC 417 lies about 10,000 light-years away. It is in the outer part of the Milky Way, almost exactly in the opposite direction from the galactic center. A cluster of young stars called “Stock 8” can be seen at center right. The light from this cluster carves out a bowl in the nearby dust clouds, seen here as green fluff. Along the sinuous tail in the center and to the left, groupings of red point sources are also young stars. In this image, infrared wavelengths, which are invisible to the unaided eye, have been assigned visible colors.

This image made available by NASA shows the runaway star Kappa Cassiopeiae, or HD 2905, center, and its bow shock formed when the magnetic fields and wind of particles flowing off the star collide with the diffuse, and usually invisible, gas and dust that fill the space between stars as it travels. The wave is about 4 light-years ahead of Kappa Cassiopeiae, about the same distance that Earth is from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star beyond the sun.

A galaxy about 23 million light-years away is the site of impressive, ongoing, fireworks. Rather than paper, powder, and fire, this galactic light show involves a giant black hole, shock waves, and vast reservoirs of gas. This galactic fireworks display is taking place in NGC 4258 (also known as M106), a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way. This galaxy is famous, however, for something that our galaxy doesn’t have – two extra spiral arms that glow in X-ray, optical, and radio light. These features, or anomalous arms, are not aligned with the plane of the galaxy, but instead intersect with it. The anomalous arms are seen in this new composite image of NGC 4258, where X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are blue, radio data from the NSF’s Karl Jansky Very Large Array are purple, optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are yellow and blue, and infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope are red.

In what may look to some like an undersea image of coral and seaweed, a new image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope is showing the birth and death of stars. In this view, infrared data from Spitzer are green and blue, while longer-wavelength infrared light from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) are red. The stringy, seaweed-like filaments are the blown out remnants of a star that exploded in a supernova. The billowy clouds seen in pink are sites of massive star formation. Clusters of massive stars can be seen lighting up the clouds, and a bubble carved out from massive stars is seen near the bottom. This region contains portions of what are known as the W3 and W5 star-forming regions. In this image, Spitzer’s 3.6- and 4.5-micron data are blue and green, respectively, while WISE’s 12-micron data are red.

A collection of gas and dust over 500 light-years across, the Perseus Molecular Cloud hosts an abundance of young stars. Located on the edge of the Perseus Constellation, it was imaged by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

This new image shows the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy in infrared light as seen by the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency-led mission with important NASA contributions, and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. In the instruments’ combined data, this nearby dwarf galaxy looks like a fiery, circular explosion. Rather than fire, however, those ribbons are actually giant ripples of dust spanning tens or hundreds of light-years. Significant fields of star formation are noticeable in the center, just left of center and at right. The brightest center-left region is called 30 Doradus, or the Tarantula Nebula, for its appearance in visible light. Colder regions show where star formation is at its earliest stages or is shut off, while warm expanses point to new stars heating surrounding dust.

A star’s spectacular death in the constellation Taurus was observed on Earth as the supernova of 1054 A.D. Now, almost a thousand years later, a super dense object – called a neutron star – left behind by the explosion is seen spewing out a blizzard of high-energy particles into the expanding debris field known as the Crab Nebula. X-ray data from Chandra provide significant clues to the workings of this mighty cosmic “generator,” which is producing energy at the rate of 100,000 suns. This composite image uses data from three of NASA’s Great Observatories. The Chandra X-ray image is shown in blue, the Hubble Space Telescope optical image is in red and yellow, and the Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared image is in purple.

This image made available by NASA shows the Cat’s Paw Nebula inside the Milky Way Galaxy located in the constellation Scorpius, captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Its distance from Earth is estimated to be between 1.3 kiloparsecs (about 4,200 light years) to 1.7 kiloparsecs (about 5,500 light years). The bright, cloudlike band running left to right across the image shows the presence of gas and dust that can collapse to form new stars. The black filaments running through the nebula are particularly dense regions of gas and dust. The entire star-forming region is thought to be between 24 and 27 parsecs (80-90 light years) across.

This image shows the Whirlpool galaxy, also known as Messier 51 and NGC 5194/5195, which is actually a pair of galaxies. Located approximately 23 million light-years away, it resides in the constellation Canes Venatici. This image presents the galaxy’s appearance in visible light, from the Kitt Peak National Observatory 2.1-meter (6.8-foot) telescope and shows light at 0.4 microns (blue) and 0.7 microns (green). All of the data shown here were released as part of the Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxies Survey (SINGS) project, captured during Spitzers cryogenic and warm missions.

This image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows what lies near the sword of the constellation Orion – an active stellar nursery containing thousands of young stars and developing protostars. Many will turn out like our sun. Some are even more massive. These massive stars light up the Orion nebula, which is seen here as the bright region near the center of the image. To the north of the Orion nebula is a dark filamentary cloud of cold dust and gas, over 5 light-years in length, containing ruby red protostars that jewel the hilt of Orion’s sword.

This image of distant interacting galaxies, known collectively as Arp 142, bears an uncanny resemblance to a penguin guarding an egg. Data from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have been combined to show these dramatic galaxies in light that spans the visible and infrared parts of the spectrum. This dramatic pairing shows two galaxies that couldn’t look more different as their mutual gravitational attraction slowly drags them closer together.

A photo provided by NASA shows a slice of Saturn’s largest ring, discovered in 2009 by the Spitzer Space Telescope, which detected infrared light from the dusty ring material.