Observing Exoplanets with the Spitzer Space Telescope
At its launch in 2003, Spitzer did not have exoplanet science among its primary goals. Yet in the second half of its lifetime, Spitzer’s exoplanet observations came to be among its most important scientific contributions, including the detection of seven planets – three of them Earth analogs in the habitable zone – transiting the late M-dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. We discuss how Spitzer became the first telescope to detect light from a mature exoplanet, to probe the vertical and horizontal structure of exoplanet atmospheres, to validate and improve our knowledge of transiting exoplanet candidates, and to characterize planets detected via microlensing. In related research topics, Spitzer observed the debris left over from the formation of planetary systems and studied Y dwarfs, the cold, free-floating analogs of Jovian mass objects. We also discuss how Spitzer observations and post-processing techniques were optimized to make these challenging exoplanet observations possible.
The visionaries who first advocated an infrared space observatory, the scientists and engineers and managers who took the SIRTF telescope and its instruments from concept to reality, the scientists who operated the observatory and optimized its performance for exoplanet observations at the Spitzer Science Center, and the hundreds of scientists who took advantage of Spitzer’s great potential all deserve the credit for the epochal discoveries described here. In particular, we acknowledge the contributions of Frank Low, Gerry Neugebauer, Fred Gillett, Jim Houck, and John Bahcall who helped make Spitzer a reality. The dedication of Spitzer Project Scientist Michael Werner is an inspiration to all of us who work in space science.
Some of the research described in this publication was carried out in part at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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