James Webb Space Telescope’s Important Instrument Mode Down; Will It Affect Its Efficiency?

James Webb Telescope's Instrument Mode Goes Down; How Will It Affect?

With James Webb Space Telescope beaming back never-seen-before images of the universe, NASA’s $10 billion investment and 25 years of work seem to have come to fruition. The space telescope seems all set to completely replace the legendary Hubble telescope once the latter halts operations. However, there seems to be a small hiccup in the process, as one of James Webb’s 17 instrument modes is hit with a hardware issue.


The space observatory is equipped with four instruments that function in the infrared portion of the spectrum. While NASA is currently reviewing the issues, it can’t be said for sure when the problem will get resolved. Let’s understand what actually happened to JWST.

What Hit James Webb’s Instruments?

Three of the four instruments namely NIRISS, NIRCam, and NIRSpec are built to operate in the near-infrared and aren’t affected by the recent issue. However, the fourth instrument called MIRI which works in the mid-infrared has stopped working. All of them have the ability to switch between spectroscopy and imaging. James Webb has 17 such modes, and one of MIRI’s modes isn’t functioning as intended.

While other instruments aboard the space observatory come in handy for cosmology research including peeping into the early days of our galaxy, MIRI is necessary for observing the evolution of planets and stars.

One of the modes is used to chronicle images of gas and dust across galaxies. Besides, there is a coronagraphic mode which is used to hunt super-Earths or exoplanets by blocking the light of bright stars they are revolving around. This mode also features two spectroscopy modes, out of which one is dysfunctional.

Investigation Under Process

“On August 24, a mechanism that supports one of these modes, known as medium-resolution spectroscopy (MRS), exhibited what appears to be increased friction during setup for a science observation,” NASA wrote. “This mechanism is a grating wheel that allows scientists to select between short, medium, and longer wavelengths when making observations using the MRS mode.”

Currently, the James Webb team back on Earth will be doing away from MIRI medium-resolution spectroscopy mode while NASA investigates the setback. The space agency will soon be taking a call on how to tackle the situation and bring the instrument modes back to life, so the issue doesn’t spread to other modes on the space observatory.

JSWT’s Data Also Under Scanner?

While the new space telescope has stunned astronomers across the globe with its detailed imagery of the universe, some researchers are still skeptical of its achievements. Recently, a team of researchers from Harvard and MIT claimed that astronomers might be misinterpreting the exoplanet data collected by James Webb Space Telescope. The study has been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

One of the professors noted that space scientists are currently relying on Webb data, which is good at its job. However, to decrypt important data such as a planet’s atmosphere with more precision, the system is in need of serious upgrades.

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