Jan. 31 (UPI) -- NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spent the past 16 years rendering the universe and its many phenomena in infrared, providing scientists clues to the secrets of stellar formation, supernovae, quasars, exoplanets and more.
But no longer. NASA confirmed the end of Spitzer's scientific mission Thursday. Shortly after engineers shut off the telescope's instruments and put the spacecraft into safe mode, Joseph Hunt, Spitzer's project manager, declared the mission over.
Spitzer was one of NASA's four Great Observatories, along with the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.
"Spitzer has taught us about entirely new aspects of the cosmos and taken us many steps further in understanding how the universe works, addressing questions about our origins, and whether or not are we alone," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a news release. "This Great Observatory has also identified some important and new questions and tantalizing objects for further study, mapping a path for future investigations to follow. Its immense impact on science certainly will last well beyond the end of its mission."
Spitzer's sensitivity to faraway infrared emissions was key to penetrating the gas and dust that shrouds many of the universe's most interesting phenomena.
Launched in 2003, the telescope was only expected to conduct science for two and a half years. Like so many NASA spacecraft, the observatory outlasted its shelf life and exceeded expectations.
Over the years, Spitzer enabled a variety of significant scientific discoveries.
In 2017, Spitzer helped scientists discover and characterize seven Earth-sized planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1.
"This is the most exciting discovery we've had yet with the Spitzer Telescope," Sean Carey, manager of the Spitzer Science Center, said during a press conference announcing the findings.
In 2009, Spitzer helped scientists produce the world's first weather map for an exoplanet. The telescope plotted the temperature variations across the surface of a giant gas planet, HD 189733b.
That same year, Spitzer also spied a previously unknown ring around Saturn, a thick but near-invisible outer ring composed of dust and debris knocked loose from Saturn's moon Phoebe.
Over the course of the telescope's lifetime, Spitzer's data empowered hundreds of scientific studies. And though its instruments are no more, all of its archived data remains publicly available -- certain to inspire many more scientific discoveries.
"I think that Spitzer is an example of the very best that people can achieve," said Michael Werner, project scientist on the Spitzer mission. "I feel very fortunate to have worked on this mission, and to have seen the ingenuity, doggedness and brilliance that people on the team showed. When you tap into those things and empower people to use them, then truly incredible things will happen."