BBC Future

Spitzer space telescope: Ten years of amazing views

  • Spitzer telescope
    Launched on 25 August 2003, Nasa's Spitzer Space Telescope has spent ten years illuminating the cosmos with its infrared eyes. (Copyright: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
  • Helix Nebula
    Looking like the Eye of Sauron, Spitzer showed the unravelling dusty outer layers of the dying star that created the nebula. (Copyright: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/Univ.of Ariz.)
  • Messier 104
    Spitzer revealed the full extent of the bulge of stars in this Sombrero galaxy, and a hidden disk of stars within the dust ring. (Copyright: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)
  • Star-forming region W5
    Astronomers called this the "Mountains of Creation", a nod to Hubble’s famous "Pillars of Creation" image, but on a much larger scale. (Copyright; NASA/JPL-Caltech)
  • Zeta Ophiuchus
    The star known as Zeta Oph blasts out a wind of subatomic particles, its curving wave is around four light years, or 40 trillion kilometres, long. (Copyright: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
  • Eta Carinae
    Around 100 times the mass of our sun, the energy output from this bright star at the centre is sculpting and destroying the surrounding nebula. (Copyright: Nasa/JPL-Caltech)
  • NGC 2207 and IC 2163
    The two galaxies, around 140 million light-years from Earth, merged around 40 million years ago. This image was captured by Spitzer (red) and Hubble (blue/green). (Copyright: Nasa)
  • Sword of Orion
    Our closest massive star-making factory, the Orion nebula lies 1,450 light-years from Earth. (Copyright: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Toledo)
  • Rho Ophiuchi
    One of the closest star-forming regions to our own solar system, “Rho Oph”, as it is known, is about 407 light years away. (Copyright: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)
  • MACS0647-JD
    Combining the power of Hubble and Spitzer, last year astronomers found the most distant galaxy seen in the universe, 420 million years after the Big Bang. (Copyright: NASA/ESA)
As Nasa’s telescope celebrates its tenth anniversary of revealing the Universe’s dark side, we show some of the most memorable images it has captured.

Before the Spitzer space telescope launched on 25 August 2003, a lot lay hidden in the dark corners of the Universe. One of Nasa's four Great Observatories (other siblings were Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Hubble space telescope), Spitzer was different in that it was designed to detect the Universe's infrared radiation, in which cooler things like planets appear relatively brighter, and hot things like stars relatively dimmer. This allows it to peer into interstellar dust clouds and stretches of deep space that appeared unexciting to ordinary telescopes.

The telescope has studied comets and asteroids, it has helped to detect far-flung galaxies, and it even discovered soccer-ball-shaped carbon spheres called buckyballs. It was the first to detect light coming from a planet outside our solar system, and discovered the largest of Saturn's many rings. Even though it ran out of the helium coolant needed to use its far-infrared detectors in 2009, two detectors have continued to provide striking images of the Universe.

Nasa says that Spitzer will continue to explore the cosmos in its second decade of operation. For instance, it will attempt to examine a small near-Earth asteroid named 2009 DB to better determine its size, which the space agency says will help them understand potential candidates for its asteroid capture and redirection mission.

But for now, we at BBC Future want to wish Spitzer a very happy anniversary, and celebrate this by showing some of its most memorable images over the decade.

If you would like to comment on this slideshow or anything else you have seen on Future, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.