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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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