In context: Launched almost sixteen years ago, the $720 million Spitzer infrared space telescope had a planned mission time of 2.5 years that was extended to more than twice this figure keeping in view the on-board liquid helium supply.
Six years later in 2009 when most of the telescope's instruments became inoperable due to the liquid helium running out, which was needed to maintain extremely cool temperatures, as low as −450 °F (−268 °C), the on-board infrared array camera (IRAC) remained the only working module that took an image of a perfectly sideways galaxy.
NASA's Spitzer space telescope is meant to retire in January next year but during its lifetime, it has observed many remarkable spectacles in the vastness of space, such as the Henize 206 nebula, the Cat's Paw nebula, magnetic field lines of the Cigar Galaxy and the Pandora's Cluster, to name a few.
This week, NASA's JPL shared an image taken by Spitzer's IRAC module which the agency says might look like a "lightsaber" floating in space but is actually an entire galaxy viewed sideways.
With Spitzer's IRAC detecting infrared light, NASA says that the red color emitted from the galaxy corresponds to infrared wavelength produced by dust, that absorbs light from stars and then re-emits it at longer wavelengths.
The Sun-orbiting Spitzer telescope took this image during its "cold" mission, which ended a decade ago with three infrared wavelengths captured by the IRAC.
"Blue light corresponds to Spitzer's observations at a wavelength of 3.6 microns, produced mainly by stars; green corresponds to 4.5 microns; and red corresponds to 8 microns," says NASA, with the blue haze around the galaxy produced by stars that make up most of the mass of this galaxy.