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spitzer moving to warm phase May 5, 2009

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy.
Tags: , , , ,

I finally got the email the other day: Spitzer is about to run out of helium.

Now you might be thinking “so what? it’s going to start talking in a lower voice?”

No, but it’ll be seeing in higher colors.Spitzer is an infrared telescope, and infrared light is produced by anything warm. Liquid helium is used to keep the instruments cold so the detectors only detect IR light from astronomical sources, and not from the camera itself.  Unfortunately, as anyone who’s ever had a helium balloon knows, helium will leak.

Even though it’s moving into “warm” phase, that’s still a relative term.  Spitzer orbits at the Lagrange point that is always is the Earth’s shadow (it’s the point where the gravitational pull from the Sun + Earth is the same as the pull of the Sun on the Earth, so objects can orbit there and always remain in the same position relative to earth). Earth’s shadow is a pretty cold place, so two of Spitzer’s detectors can keep working.

The folks at JPL of course have to make sure we know what Spitzer would have to say for itself after all these years.



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