IRAS: A Telescope in a Bottle

January 1, 1987 – October 1, 1997

National Air and Space Museum
Independence Avenue and 6th Street, SW
Washington, DC

Stars, Gallery 111, 1st Floor, East Wing Floor Plan

On view is a full-scale replica of an Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), a space-based telescope that detects infrared or heat radiation from distant objects in the cosmos. The IRAS model is 12 feet long and 11 feet wide with its solar panels extended. This model was built from back-up and leftover parts of the original satellite and from new components. The original IRAS was launched in 1983 and orbited the Earth for 10 months, discovering a quarter-million sources of infrared radiation, including hundreds of stars, a new comet, and 10,000 galaxies never seen before.

To aid in detecting distant or weak sources of heat radiation, the IRAS telescope was encased in a special liquid helium cooling system to keep the instrument as cold as possible. Theoretically, the telescope's detectors were so sensitive that they could sense the heat from a candle on the moon.