After 16 years of unveiling the infrared universe, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has left a singular legacy. As one of NASA’s four Great Observatories -- a series of powerful telescopes including Hubble, Chandra and Compton that can observe the cosmos in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum --Spitzer quickly became a pioneer in the exploration of the worlds beyond our human vision. From stars being born to planets beyond our solar system (like the seven Earth-size planets around the star TRAPPIST-1), Spitzer's science discoveries will continue to inspire the world for many years to come.
[Announcers] Three, two, one, zero. We have ignition. [rocket engine roars]
[Joseph Hunt] Rocket launches. It's thrusting out flames and you's watching and you have all those emotions and the rocket goes along on this journey and it deploys Spitzer.
[Mike Werner] The Spitzer Space Telescope is a member of NASA's family of great observatories. Spitzer is the infrared member of this family.
[Farisa Morales] Spitzer has unveiled the infrared universe. It has enabled humans to see what our eyes could not see.
[Robert Hurt] We see a whole new side to the universe that's hidden from us normally.
[Farisa] You can peer inside of clouds of dust to see the baby stars, called protostars, being born.
[Robert] Yet, let us see into more distant galaxies and see how the patterns of dust tell us about the motions of gas and the dynamics of gravity that operate in these objects. All of a sudden, we could create these vast panoramas at incredibly sharp resolutions that we'd never been able to do before and as a result, everything that was familiar in the sky, every nebula, that we're used to seeing in visible light images from the ground, things from Hubble, they became completely different when seen through the infrared eyes with Spitzer. It was this combination of a scientific insight that itself, was just stunningly beautiful at the same time.
[Lisa Storrie-Lombardi] The biggest surprise, in terms of what was revealed with Spitzer, is its ability to characterize exoplanets, the planets around other stars.
[Mike] Most notably, we identified a system called TRAPPIST-1, which has seven Earth-sized planets, sort of snuggling up to what's a very cool star. And of those planets, three of them at least, are in the habitable zone.
[Robert] When Spitzer launched, exoplanet science was absolutely not part of the science portfolio, we were offering for Spitzer because it wasn't considered to be sensitive enough to do that kind of observations. But, while in flight, astronomers became clever about how they could use it. Engineers became very clever about how we could repurpose Spitzer and exoplanet science has actually become one of the core science projects of Spitzer since then.
[Lisa] The Google Doodle that day, which was TRAPPIST-1, is what kind of finished me off on a glorious day. When your adult children point out that, you know, "My mom works on that telescope." You know, that's very rewarding.
[Farisa] Spitzer Space Telescope is a technological marvel.
[Mike] I never had any conception that we'd be going for 16 years.
[Farisa] The little machine that could go beyond its primary design.
[Joseph] The longevity of the mission, is a direct result of the engineers and scientists and people that have supported the mission.
[Bo Kahr] In a place that dares mighty things, you can do it...together and so, when you have that kind of union, I think what happens is magic.
[Sean Carey] I'm hoping Spitzer will be remembered as a really amazing scientific gift and that it allowed us to kind of transform our understanding of some very important aspects of astronomy and I think Spitzer's been integral to all that.
[Farisa] We have a huge archive that is waiting to be mined and its revelations already have been tremendous and revolutionary, that only time will tell, what is Spitzer's greatest legacy. [contemplative music]