University of Arizona astronomers are delighted with first images from the
Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly called the Space Infrared Telescope

UA astronomy Professor George Rieke presented some of the images at a news
conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. today. Rieke is
principal investigator for the Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS), one of
three science instruments aboard the Spitzer Space Telescope.

“We know now that this telescope will do exciting things,” Rieke said. “All
of these observations were to help us figure out if everything is working
well enough to do the observations we plan to do. It is. We already could
write two dozen papers from little scraps of information we got during
checkout. This is so new that there’s something new in almost everything we

UA-built MIPS detectors took the first-ever image of dust in the inner part
of the massive disc of dusty debris left over from planet formation around
Fomalhaut, a star 25 light years away. Fomalhaut is the 18th brightest star
in the sky and 100 times more luminous than our sun. Its outer ring of icy
debris is two or three times the size of our solar system. Although other
telescopes have observed the outer edges of the Fomalhaut’s disc, none have
been able to photograph the inner region.

“What we think is happening is that there probably is one massive planet, or
more, orbiting this star within a ring of icy, Kuiper Belt-like objects,”
Rieke said. Kuiper Belt objects are small, icy bodies left over from solar
system formation. They form a vast shell around the outer edge of the solar
system. “The planet, or planets, may be deflecting comets to the inner part
of the solar system.” Colliding debris create a dense ball of dust.

MIPS images taken in early November show the dust that heats up as it
spirals toward Fomalhaut. Fomalhaut’s inner solar system dust ball would
fill our solar system out to the planet Uranus.

Another new image shows the dusty, star-studded arms of galaxy M81, a large
spiral galaxy 12 million light years away.

“This is the first time we’ve seen such a well-resolved image of a classic
grand design spiral galaxy at far-infrared wavelengths,” said MIPS
instrument team scientist Karl Gordon of UA’s Steward Observatory. “There
an incredible amount of structure that we just haven’t been able to see
before. For the first time, we will be able to study different star-forming
regions within many different galaxies at infrared wavelengths. The quality
of the data so soon after launch is just amazing.”

UA MIPS team member John Stansberry and NASA Ames scientist Dale Cruikshank
took an image of heat given off by dust around Comet P-29
(Schwassmann/Wachmann 1), the 29th comet discovered in our solar system.

Most comets become active only when they come in as close to the sun as
Earth. That’s where water frozen in comets starts to “sublimate,” or turn
from ice to gas.

Comet P-29 is beyond Jupiter, and is too cold for water ice to sublimate.
What drives this comet’s activity is probably carbon dioxide ice, dry ice.
Carbon dioxide gas carries dust away from the comet, forming a cloud, or
coma, many times larger than Jupiter.

“We got a really good image of this comet. Instrument performance is right
on,” Stansberry said.

Ball Aerospace, Boulder, Co., built the MIPS instrument.

The Spitzer Space Telescope was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on
24 and is the fourth of NASA’s Great Observatories. The telescope is more
sensitive to infrared radiation, or heat, than any ever built. It
complements the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory,
and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory that operate, respectively, at visible,
gamma ray and X-ray wavelengths.

UA’s Steward Observatory plays a major role in the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Not only did UA scientists provide one of the telescope’s three science
instruments, Steward Observatory astronomers lead two of its six major
Legacy Science projects.

UA astronomer Robert Kennicutt Jr. leads the “SINGS” project. He and his
team will use the Spitzer telescope to study star formation in nearby
galaxies. Astronomers want to know why some nearby galaxies create hundreds
more stars than the Milky Way creates, while other galaxies hardly form any

UA astronomer Michael Meyer leads another Legacy Science project. He and
team are studying dust disks evolving around Milky Way stars to learn if
solar systems like ours are rare or commonplace.

NASA announced the telescope’s new name at today’s news conference. It
honors Lyman Spitzer, Jr., one of the 20th century’s most distinguished
astronomers. Spitzer was the first to propose placing large telescopes in
space. His efforts led to two successful missions, including the Hubble
Space Telescope.

The Spitzer Space Telescope is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, a division of the California Institute of Technology. Science
operations are handled at Caltech.