Retiring Spitzer’s IR views of the Tarantula a fitting legacy

The Spitzer Space Telescope, one of NASA’s four “Great Observatories,” will be retired \this week after more than 16 years capturing stunning infrared views of the universe. One of the telescope’s first targets after launch in 2003 was the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a spectacular assembly of gas, dust, embedded star clusters and stellar nurseries that have helped astronomers learn more about star formation rates and evolution. Spitzer captured fresh images of the Tarantula last year, a fitting bookend to the observatory’s career. “I think we chose the Tarantula Nebula as one of our first targets because we knew it would demonstrate the breadth of Spitzer’s capabilities,” said Spitzer project scientist Michael Werner. “That region has a lot of interesting dust structures and a lot of star formation happening, and those are both areas where infrared observatories can see a lot of things that you can’t see in other wavelengths.”

This image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Tarantula Nebula in two wavelengths of infrared light. The red regions indicate the presence of particularly hot gases, while the blue regions indicate interstellar dust made up of molecules of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, similar to compounds found in ash from coal, wood and oil fires on Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


This Spitzer image of the Tarantula combines three wavelengths of infrared light. The dust made up of PAHs is seen in magenta, combining infrared wavelengths of 8 and 3.6 micometres. Greenish regions show hot gas emitting infrared light at 4.5 micrometres. Mostly white areas are regions that emit all three wavelengths. Supernova 1987a can be seen on the outskirts of the nebula, along with R136, a region of extremely rapid star formation at the heart of the Tarantula. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech