CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA is pulling the plug on one of its great observatories — the Spitzer Space Telescope — after it scanned the universe with infrared eyes for 16 years.
The end comes Thursday when ground controllers put the aging spacecraft into permanent hibernation.
For years, Spitzer peered through dusty clouds at untold stars and galaxies, uncovered a huge, nearly invisible ring around Saturn, and helped discover seven Earth-size planets around a nearby star.
Spitzer’s last observation was expected Wednesday. Altogether, the telescope observed 800,000 celestial targets and churned out more than 36 million raw images as part of the $1.4 billion mission.
Designed to last just 2½ to 5 years, the telescope got increasingly difficult to operate as it drifted farther behind Earth, NASA said. It currently trails Earth by 165 million miles, while orbiting the sun.
Spitzer will continue to fall even farther behind Earth, posing no threat to another spacecraft or anything else, officials said.