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One of the greatest observatories of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Spitzer Telescope is nearing the end of an incredible journey. The spacecraft has functioned in the international space agency for more than a decade, surpassing its original planned mission timeline by over 11 years! In its service course, the telescope made some phenomenal discoveries and enabled scientists to delve into the surrounding cosmos including some really fetched celestial bodies we can only dream of visiting one day.

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Spitzer is a small infrared telescope managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that senses heat rather than visible light. It differs from the ways of any optical telescopes including the Hubble, as it captures infrared light emitted by warm objects that do not radiate visible light. This implies that the Spitzer can detect invisible changes that may go unnoticed in the hidden corners of the universe.

Spying stars in every stage of its life, Spitzer has mapped the Milky Way, and has also snapped beautiful pictures of nebulas and observed marvelous things such as a new ring around Saturn and exoplanets.The mighty telescope still remains technically functional to date. But unfortunately, the mission is coming to an end as NASA has decided to pull the plug on the Spitzer and let it retire on January 30, 2020. Reason? The growing distance between the telescope and Earth.

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Spitzer orbits around the Sun, trailing 158 million miles behind our planet. When the spacecraft points its fixed antennae at Earth to download data or receive commands, its solar panel along its curved orbit move away from the Sun. Hence, the spacecraft has to rely on battery power to function. NASA has had to adjust its solar array to ensure the communication between Earth and the telescope is not broken in the power cut. Even so, it can only send data back for a period of about two-and-a-half hours before it has to adjust itself once again.

Now that Spitzer’s fate is being sealed, NASA is pushing forward James Webb Space Telescope which will study the universe on the same lines as that of Spitzer. The successor spacecraft is set to launch in 2021.

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