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Spitzer Space Telescope

August 23, 2013

The planet known as HAT P-2b is an inferno. Daytime temperatures top out at more than 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, with nighttime readings of more than 2,000 degrees. Winds howl at thousands of miles an hour. And at the top of the atmosphere, molecules of silicon and other elements may link together to form bits of rock.

This is the most extensive profile of any planet beyond our own solar system to date. It was produced with observations from Spitzer Space Telescope, an infrared observatory that was launched 10 years ago.

Infrared is produced most abundantly by relatively cool astronomical objects. It’s absorbed by water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere, though, so the best place to study it is from space.

Spitzer was launched into an orbit away from Earth to avoid the heat of our own planet. And its instruments were cooled to just above absolute zero to eliminate the heat from the telescope itself. It used up its coolant about four years ago, so it can no longer see some infrared wavelengths. Others are still clear, though, so the craft continues to operate.

Over the last decade, Spitzer has studied everything from comets and asteroids in our own solar system to galaxies at the edge of the observable universe. It’s examined stars that are being born and those that are dying. And in recent years, it’s made some of the most detailed observations of exoplanets — providing some of the best looks yet at worlds in other star systems.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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