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James Webb Telescope’s Most Important Instrument Finally Online Again
James Webb Space Telescope has been capturing the most astonishing images of the cosmos ever since it embraced the skies. However, one of its most important instruments has been offline for months. But thanks to the teams working tirelessly at NASA, the instrument is up and running again at its full potential.
The Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) camera aboard the JWST, which allows scientists to observe the universe from their preferred wavelength, went offline on August 24 after its grating wheel ran into some technical issue, Space Telescope Science Institute wrote in a statement.
JWST’s “Coolest” Instrument Up And Running
The MIRI camera is capable of seeing uber-cold temperatures, earning the title of being JWST’s “coolest” instrument from the European Space Agency (ESA). MIRI has been the driving force behind the space telescope’s breathtaking images of the universe. While the instrument’s troubles did not make the telescope dysfunctional, it was definitely missed.
How did #MIRI become @ESA_Webb's coolest instrument, now making awe-inspiring images like these?— ESA Science (@esascience) November 8, 2022
Ambition, leadership, teamwork, and international collaboration between @esa, @nasa and institutions and industry from 10 European countries 🤝 https://t.co/qM3evUBYS6 #Webb pic.twitter.com/b04wvFqqGY
After identifying the issue, NASA took the instrument offline and remotely investigated it for weeks. The Webb team learned that MIRI’s wheel’s issue was a result of "increased contact forces between the wheel central bearing assembly’s sub-components under certain conditions."
Simply put, there was too much friction between the grate and the instrument’s wheel, which resulted in issues with the camera.
New Operational Rules For MIRI Instrument
The Webb team fixed the issues and assigned new rules for MIRI while they were remotely investigating the instrument. On November 2, the marquee space agency enacted those rules to bring back the instrument online after over two months of hiatus.
So, what’s next for the MIRI instrument? The STScl notes, the instrument will be "taking advantage of a unique opportunity to observe Saturn’s polar regions." Well, that’s pretty impressive for an instrument that was missing in action for over two months.
JWST’s Impressive Cameras And Instruments
James Webb Space Telescope comprises three other instruments apart from MIRI called NIRISS, NIRCam, and NIRSpec. These instruments operate in the near infrared and weren’t affected by the MIRI camera’s issue. All of them can switch between spectroscopy and imaging. The telescope packs 17 such modes.
While other instruments greatly help cosmology research including peeping into the early days of the universe, MIRI is a necessary tool for observing the evolution of planets and stars.
The James Webb Space Telescope has been beaming back some never-seen-before images of the cosmos, and it seems that NASA’s $10 billion investment and 25 years of work have come to fruition.