NASA says goodbye to Spitzer: See the telescope's most astounding images

The Spitzer Space Telescope has reached the end of its mission. Relive Spitzer's wildest views of space, from tendrils of spidery nebulae to glowing supernova remnants.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
1 of 21 NASA, ESA, NRAO/AUI/NSF and G. Dubner (University of Buenos Aires)

Crab Nebula

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has been unraveling the mysteries of the cosmos since its launch on Aug. 25, 2003. Spitzer's mission is now coming to an end as NASA decommissions the telescope on Jan. 30. 

Spitzer lasted much longer than expected, but has been drifting away from Earth. That distance made it too challenging to continue to operate the observatory.

NASA released this view of the crustacean-like Crab Nebula in 2017. The image required the combined efforts of five different telescopes, including Hubble and Spitzer, which is able to "see" in infrared. The combination of data and imagery gives us a stunning look at a fascinating nebula.

Originally published Aug. 22, 2018.
Update Jan. 22, 2020: Reflects the end the mission for Spitzer and adds six new images, beginning with slide 16.

2 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Monkey Head

When seen in visible light, this nebula resembles the face of a monkey, giving it the nickname "Monkey Head." Those features aren't as obvious in this infrared Spitzer Space Telescope view of the star-forming region, formally known as NGC 2174.

3 of 21 NASA-ESA/STScI/AURA/JPL-Caltech

Penguin and Egg galaxies

Spitzer teamed up with the Hubble space telescope for this view of the Arp 142 galaxies, which resemble a watchful penguin looking over an egg. You can see how they earned the adorable "Penguin and the Egg" nickname.

4 of 21 X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L.Townsley et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L.Townsley et al.

Tarantula Nebula

NASA's three great observatories, Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer, all contributed to this image of the Tarantula Nebula, more formally known as 30 Doradus. Spitzer's efforts can be seen in the reddish portions of the image, which depict "cooler gas and dust that have giant bubbles carved into them." The nebula gets its nickname from its spidery filaments. 

5 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ.of Ariz.

Helix Nebula

NASA's Spitzer telescope captured this fabulous infrared look at the Helix Nebula. NASA called out its "vivid colors and eerie resemblance to a giant eye." It can be found in the constellation Aquarius and is classified as a planetary nebula.  

"Infrared light from the outer gaseous layers is represented in blues and greens. The white dwarf is visible as a tiny white dot in the center of the picture. The red color in the middle of the eye denotes the final layers of gas blown out when the star died," NASA explains.

6 of 21 X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/K.Getman, E.Feigelson, M.Kuhn & the MYStIX team; Infrared:NASA/JPL-Caltech

Flame Nebula

NASA's Spitzer telescope contributed to this evocative look at the Flame Nebula. The composite view combines imagery and data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer.  

The nebula is called NGC 2024. NASA notes that "the stars at the center of NGC 2024 were about 200,000 years old while those on the outskirts were about 1.5 million years in age."

7 of 21 NASA

Cosmic cloud

This cosmic cloud is found in the Orion Nebula at a distance of 1,500 light-years away from Earth. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope gave us this psychedelic false-color image that would like right at home on a tie-dye t-shirt.

"Green indicates hydrogen and sulfur gas in the nebula, which is a cocoon of gas and dust. Red and orange indicate carbon-rich molecules. Infant stars appear as yellow dots embedded in the nebula," says NASA.

8 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Green Lantern ring

NASA pointed out how this emerald nebula resembles the power ring worn by the superhero Green Lantern. The space agency describes it as a region of hot gas and glowing dust. This Spitzer infrared view gives us a good look at its ring-like shape. 

9 of 21 Hubble: NASA, ESA, and Q.D. Wang (University of Massachusetts, Amherst); Spitzer: NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and S. Stolovy (Spitzer Science Center/Caltech)

Milky Way center

Spitzer and Hubble teamed up for this infrared composite view of the star-filled center of the Milky Way galaxy. "The Galactic core is obscured in visible light by intervening dust clouds, but infrared light penetrates the dust," says NASA.

10 of 21 MPIA/NASA/Calar Alto Observatory

Supernova remnant

NASA's Spitzer and Chandra space observatories and the Calar Alto observatory in Spain collaborated on this bright view of a supernova remnant using both X-ray and infrared data. The space agency describes the remnant as "a blazing hot cloud of expanding debris."

11 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Potsdam Univ.

Peony Nebula

The second-brightest star in our galaxy stars in this Spitzer Space Telescope image of the Peony Nebula, located in the central region of the Milky Way. It isn't as bright as a star known as Eta Carina, but it's plenty blazing. NASA says it shines with the equivalent light of 3.2 million suns. 

12 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/Vassar

Galaxy eyes

These galaxies seem to be making eyes at the Spitzer Space Telescope in this image that looks like a cosmic mask. The "eyes" are the cores of two merging galaxies surrounded by spiral arms. This false-color image used data from both Spitzer and Hubble. The galaxies are located 140 million light-years away.

13 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.

Black Widow Nebula

This spidery nebula is full of baby stars. The NASA Spitzer Space Telescope image of the Black Widow Nebula gives us a little taste of the creepier side of the cosmos.

14 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Institut d'Astrophysique Spatia

Eagle Nebula

This radiant Spitzer view shows part of the Eagle Nebula. The nebula is home to the famous "Pillars of Creation."  "Red represents hotter dust thought to have been warmed by the explosion of a massive star about 8,000 to 9,000 years ago," says NASA.

15 of 21 X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/J.DePasquale; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: NASA/STScI

Colliding galaxies

NASA's three great observatories, Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer, all worked on this image showing two galaxies colliding. These are known as the Antennae galaxies due to long "arms" seen in wide-angle views. 

"The collision, which began more than 100 million years ago and is still occurring, has triggered the formation of millions of stars in clouds of dusts and gas in the galaxies," said NASA.

16 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI

Sombrero galaxy

This wide-brimmed galaxy is known as the Sombrero galaxy. "Spitzer observations were the first to reveal the smooth, bright ring of dust (seen in red) circling the galaxy," said NASA.

17 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC

Pinwheel galaxy

You can see how the Messier 101 galaxy earned its "Pinwheel" nickname. Spitzer's infrared data contributed to this composite image. Look for the red hues to see Spitzer's work. "These areas show light emitted by dusty lanes in the galaxy where stars are forming," NASA said.

18 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC

Cartwheel galaxy

This might look like a scene from a late-night dance party, but it's actually a composite view of the Cartwheel galaxy. What we're seeing is the aftermath of a cosmic collision. "Approximately 100 million years ago, a smaller galaxy plunged through the heart of the Cartwheel galaxy, creating ripples of brief star formation," NASA said.

19 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS

Spider nebula

Green clouds of dust glow in this composite view of the Spider nebula made from data collected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telesecope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). The nebula hosts clusters of young stars.

20 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Giant wave-making star

The star Zeta Ophiuchi is both brighter and more massive than our sun. The star appears in bright blue while a "bow shock" appears in red. "As it charges through the dust, which appears green, fierce stellar winds push the material into waves," said NASA.

21 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

Eta Carinae lights up space

The star Eta Carinae shines at the center of this image. "With around 100 times the mass of the sun and at least 1 million times the brightness, Eta Carinae releases a tremendous outflow of energy that has eroded the surrounding nebula," said NASA. Spitzer witnessed the dust and clouds of gas around the star. 

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