May 5, 2009

Spitzer about to exhaust its helium supply

The U.S. space agency says its Spitzer Space Telescope is about to use the last of the coolant that has chilled it for the past 5 1/2 years.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration observatory is predicted to run out of the liquid helium that has kept its infrared detectors at prime operating temperatures of just a few degrees above absolute zero. The helium is expected to be exhausted this month.

The spacecraft is in orbit around the sun more than 62 million miles behind Earth. NASA said Spitzer's instruments will warm from minus 456 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 404. That, said scientists, is still cold enough for some of Spitzer's infrared detectors to keep probing the cosmos for at least two more years.