Spitzer Space Telescope
Rieke, George H. Steward Observatory, Department of Astronomy, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.
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A high-performance infrared telescope that is one of the four Great Observatories. Spitzer was launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 2003. It takes advantage of dramatic advances in infrared detectors and detector arrays that occurred over the decade prior to its launch. The Spitzer detectors operate over the 3–200-micrometers (μm) wavelength range and are limited in sensitivity only by the faint glow of the zodiacal dust cloud. Ground-based infrared telescopes can operate only at the wavelengths where the atmosphere is transparent, lying between 1 and 25 μm. Even within these windows, the thermal emission of the atmosphere is more than a million times greater than the dilute emission of the zodiacal cloud, and there is additional foreground thermal emission from the telescope itself. High-sensitivity detectors are blinded by these bright foreground signals. Operating in space eliminates the atmospheric absorption and emission; also, a telescope in the vacuum of space can be cooled sufficiently to virtually eliminate its emission. See also: Zodiacal light
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