Infrared Astronomy After IRAS

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Science  21 Feb 1986:
Vol. 231, Issue 4740, pp. 807-814
DOI: 10.1126/science.231.4740.807


The 250,000 sources in the recently issued Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS) all-sky infrared catalog are a challenge to astronomy. Many of these sources will be studied with existing and planned ground-based and airborne telescopes, but many others can no longer even be detected now that IRAS has ceased to operate. As anticipated by advisory panels of the National Academy of Sciences for a decade, study of the IRAS sources will require the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), a cooled, pointed telescope in space. This instrument may be the key to our understanding of cosmic birth—the formation of planets, stars, galaxies, active galactic nuclei, and quasars. Compared with IRAS and existing telescopes, SIRTF's power derives from a thousandfold gain in sensitivity over five octaves of the spectrum.