A 360-Degree View of the Milky Way
Kyle Maxey posted on March 24, 2014 |
Milky Way, Cal tech, astronomy, stars, Spitzer, telescope, image, exoplanet, webb

Compiling images and data from over a decade of work, the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) provides astronomers with the most comprehensive view of our galaxy yet – the GLIMPSE360.

Launched in 2003, the SST produced the GLIMPSE360 using more than 2 million infrared images taken over the course of 4,142 hours of dedicated observation time. Using the infrared spectrum, Spitzer was able to peer through murky interstellar dust and illuminate a galaxy hidden from the visible spectrum.

"Spitzer is helping us determine where the edge of the galaxy lies," said Ed Churchwell, co-leader of the GLIMPSE team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We are mapping the placement of the spiral arms and tracing the shape of the galaxy."

With its 2 million individual images stitched together, the GLIMPSE360 is undoubtedly the most detailed rendering of our Galaxy ever assembled. Given our position in the outer third of the Milky Way, Spitzer’s ability to absorb infrared radiation has informed scientists that our galaxy is larger than previously thought, while also exposing stars that were once difficult to view. “There are a whole lot more lower-mass stars seen now with Spitzer on a large scale, allowing for a grand study," said Barbara Whitney of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Beyond that mission, Spitzer has also been instrumental in discovering some of the oldest stars in our Universe and, although well past its effective operational period, the telescope will continue its life actively searching for exoplanets.

Even if Spitzer never makes another discovery, the telescope will be viewed as one of the most effective astronomical instruments ever built. Additionally, according to NASA’s JPL at Caltech, Spitzer’s Universal portrait will help guide the James Webb Telescope in its quest to understand how stars, galaxies, solar systems and our Universe as a whole were formed; which is quite the legacy.

Images and Video Courtesy of NASA and JPL


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