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Spitzer's Legacy: The Big Picture

M51
M51, better known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, as seen by the Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxy Survey
NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Kennicutt (Univ. of Arizona)

Four hundred years after Galileo first pointed his new telescope up at the night sky to gaze at objects within our solar system, Spitzer Legacy Science Program astronomers are using sensitive infrared technology to observe galaxies at the edge of the universe. With the help of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, Legacy scientists have explored the center of the Milky Way, searched thick molecular space clouds for infant stars, and peered with infrared eyes through galaxies near and far.

Comprised of six projects, these teams study the full range of science that can be uniquely probed by Spitzer. Their Spitzer data is available to the entire astronomy community as soon as it is processed by the Spitzer Science Center.

"With Spitzer we are able to do things that we were simply not able to do before," said SSC Director, Dr. Thomas Soifer. "That is why we felt it was necessary to provide a public database of information early on. The information archived in this database will be analyzed for decades to come."

The legacy teams also merge their data with information from ground-based and other space-borne telescopes to gain a "big picture" or, enhanced view of the Universe. This supplementary information is regularly released to the public via the SSC's archive as well.

"In the astronomical community there is a growing consensus that it is no longer enough just to look at the sky in infrared or visible light," said Legacy Scientist, Dr. Jason Surace. "Astronomers now agree that in order to understand the big picture we need to combine technologies and information."

The first set of Legacy enhanced data was released in October 2004, less than one year after the telescope began its normal science observations. The second set was made available eight months later in July 2005, and the next release is scheduled for fall 2005.

"There is an element of 'community service' for the Legacy teams," said Soifer. "They recognize that this information is not just for their benefit, but for the good of the entire astronomical community."

The Legacy projects were selected in November 2000, following a worldwide call for proposals and an extensive peer review process. Spitzer was launched in August 2003 and in its first year of observation the six approved projects used approximately 3,160 hours of the telescope's observing time. In commemoration of Spitzer's two-year launch anniversary, the SSC will be posting a spotlight of web features on each of the six projects.

A Brief Look at Spitzer's Legacy Projects

Spitzer Wide-Area Infrared Extragalactic Survey (SWIRE) - Studies the evolution of galaxies by scanning 50 sq. degrees of sky using Spitzer's Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) and Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS).

Principal Investigator: Dr. Carol Lonsdale, Infrared Processing & Analysis Center (IPAC), California Institute for Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

The Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxy Survey (SINGS) - Studies the structure and star formation properties of nearby galaxies.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Robert C. Kennicutt, Jr., Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.

Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS) - Studies the formation and evolution of galaxies during the early age of the Universe.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Mark Dickinson, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.

Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire (GLIMPSE) - Studies galactic structure and star formation by surveying the inner Milky Way with Spitzer's Infrared Array Camera (IRAC).

Principal Investigator: Dr. Edward B. Churchill, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.

The Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems: Placing Our Solar System in Context (FEPS) - Studies the evolution of various planetary systems ranging young stars to Solar-age stars using Spitzer's Infrared Spectrometer (IRS).
Principal Investigator:Dr. Michael R. Meyer, Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.

From Molecular Cores to Planet Forming Disks (C2D) - Studies the birth of stars by surveying molecular clouds in the Milky Way where stars are forming.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Neal Evans, University of Texas at Austin



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