Space

NASA celebrates Spitzer's 15th anniversary with VR experience and selfie app

TRAPPIST-1E seen during the virtual tour of the TRAPPIST system
TRAPPIST-1E seen during the virtual tour of the TRAPPIST system
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The Spitzer Space Telescope launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
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The Spitzer Space Telescope launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Still shot from the newly released Spitzer VR tour of the TRAPPIST-1 system
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Still shot from the newly released Spitzer VR tour of the TRAPPIST-1 system
The NASA selfie app in all its glory
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The NASA selfie app in all its glory
Spitzer was responsible for the discovery of a massive, near invisible Saturnian ring
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Spitzer was responsible for the discovery of a massive, near invisible Saturnian ring
Artist's representation of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets
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Artist's representation of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets
TRAPPIST-1E seen during the virtual tour of the TRAPPIST system
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TRAPPIST-1E seen during the virtual tour of the TRAPPIST system

NASA is marking the 15th launch anniversary of its Spitzer Space Telescope with the release of a VR tour of the TRAPPIST-1 system, and a cosmic selfie app. Spitzer blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on August 25, 2003 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.

Since being hurled into orbit, the telescope has far outlived its expected lifetime of five years. Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer does not orbit the Earth, but instead trails far behind our Blue Marble as it tracks its own separate course around the Sun.

From its distant vantage point, Spitzer has revealed the wonders of the cosmos in glorious infrared detail. In the 15 years since Spitzer left Earth's protective atmospheric shell, the spacecraft has captured data on a vast array of cosmic objects, ranging from exotic exoplanets to enormous galaxy clusters.

Spitzer's infrared capabilities allow the telescope to peer through the choking clouds of interstellar dust that often veil cosmic objects, such as newly-formed planets and stars.

The Spitzer Space Telescope launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
The Spitzer Space Telescope launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Just a few of Spitzers many accolades include discovering a huge, practically invisible ring around Saturn, gathering unprecedented data on stellar nurseries, and creating one of the most extensive maps of the Milky Way ever created.

NASA is celebrating the 15th year of Spitzer observations with the launch of a new VR experience and a selfie tool. The Exoplanet Excursions virtual reality app takes viewers on a tour of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system, which Spitzer helped discover and characterize.

TRAPPIST-1 is the only known solar system to harbor seven Earth-sized planets. Three of these worlds are thought to orbit within the central star's habitable zone – the region of space in which it is possible for a planet to host liquid water on its surface. This has made the solar system an exciting prospect in the search for life, though numerous factors could prevent E.T. from calling the planets home.

Still shot from the newly released Spitzer VR tour of the TRAPPIST-1 system
Still shot from the newly released Spitzer VR tour of the TRAPPIST-1 system

At a distance of 40 light-years from Earth, the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets are far too remote to be directly imaged by any telescope currently in operation. Instead the planets featured in the tour are represented by artists' renderings of how scientists understand the worlds to look, based on data collected by Spitzer and other powerful telescopes.

The VR experience is available to download on the Spitzer mission website, and soon through the Oculus store. The app currently supports Oculus and Vive headsets.

The NASA selfie app in all its glory
The NASA selfie app in all its glory

The NASA Selfies app, which is available now to download on IOS and Android, allows users to upload images of themselves that appear inside a virtual spacesuit, which is displayed against the backdrop of a stunning Spitzer image. There are currently 30 images to choose from, and the app provides a helpful description of what is shown in the cosmic snaps. More images from other robotic and human spaceflight missions are set to be added in the future.

In October 2016, the Spitzer telescope began yet another mission extension, called "Beyond". During this phase the observatory is busy exploring a wide range of cosmic objects within the borders of our solar system, and far, far beyond, until the mission extension comes to a close in November 2019.

Scroll down to check out a 360-degree YouTube version of the TRAPPIST-1 tour.

Source: NASA

NASA's Exoplanet Excursions 360

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