Just over ten years after its launch, NASA this afternoon decommissioned its Galaxy Evolution Explorer spacecraft. The satellite will no longer be used for science missions, but will remain in orbit for 65 years before burning up in Earth's atmosphere.
The GALEX telescope was launched in April 2003. Its primary, 29-month mission was to observe early-universe star formation in ultraviolet wavelengths. After its successful first mission, the spacecraft was re-commissioned three more times before the mission was cancelled.
"GALEX is a remarkable accomplishment," said Jeff Hayes, NASA's GALEX program executive. "This small Explorer mission has mapped and studied galaxies in the ultraviolet, light we cannot see with our own eyes, across most of the sky."
In January, archival data from GALEX was used to discover the massive NGC 6872 galaxy. At a record 522,000 light-years across (around five time the size fo our Milky Way galaxy), NGC 6872 is the largest spiral galaxy known to exist.
During its final year, GALEX was loaned to the California Institute of Technology, which used private funding to keep the project going. The telescope was used in its last year to survey the ultraviolet sky for black holes, supernovae, and rare galaxies. Data from these observations are scheduled to be made public later this year.
"In the last few years, GALEX studied objects we never thought we'd be able to observe, from the Magellanic Clouds to bright nebulae and supernova remnants in the galactic plane," said David Schiminovich, a GALEX team member and an astronomer at Columbia University. "Some of its most beautiful and scientifically compelling images are part of this last observation cycle."
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)