Space Telescope Warms Up, Makes Pretty Pictures
These images are some of the first to be taken during Spitzer's warm mission. At left is a cloud, known as DR22, bursting with new stars in the Cygnus region of the sky. The picture at upper right shows a relatively calm galaxy called NGC 4145. The final picture at lower right shows a dying star called NGC 4361.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has officially started its ?Warm Mission? after taking its first shots of the cosmos since it ran out of coolant in May.

A set of new images taken with two of Spitzer's infrared detector channels ? two that work at the new warmer temperature (a still frosty minus 406 degrees Fahrenheit, or -243 C) ? demonstrate the observatory remains a powerful tool for probing the dusty universe more than five-and-a-half-years after it was launched into space.

The images show a bustling star-forming region, the remains of a star similar to the sun, and a swirling galaxy lined with stars.

"The performance of the two short wavelength channels of Spitzer's Infrared Array Camera is essentially unchanged from what it was before the observatory's liquid helium was exhausted," said Doug Hudgins, the Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. "To put that in perspective, that means Spitzer's sensitivity at those wavelengths is still roughly the same as a 30-meter ground-based telescope."

The first of three images shows a cloud bursting with stars in the Cygnus region of our Milky Way galaxy. Spitzer's infrared eyes peer through and see dust, revealing young stars tucked in dusty nests.

A second image shows a nearby dying star -- a planetary nebula called NGC 4361 - which has outer layers that expand outward in the rare form of four jets.

The last picture is of a classic spiral galaxy called NGC 4145, located approximately 68 million light-years from Earth.

"With Spitzer's remaining shorter-wavelength bands, we can continue to see through the dust in galaxies and get a better look at the overall populations of stars," said Robert Hurt, imaging specialist for Spitzer at NASA's Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif. "All stars are equal in the infrared."

Warm Spitzer will address many of the same science questions as before. It also will tackle new projects, such as refining estimates of Hubble's constant, or the rate at which our universe is stretching apart; searching for galaxies at the edge of the universe; characterizing more than 700 near-Earth objects, or asteroids and comets with orbits that pass close to our planet; and studying the atmospheres of giant gas planets expected to be discovered soon by NASA's Kepler mission.