Webb Telescope’s mid-infrared camera is back in full action after a worrying outage
After a hiatus, one of Webb Space Telescope’s cameras will be fully operational again after a technical test that took place last week.
Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) will resume observations using its medium-resolution spectrometry (MRS) mode by Nov. 12, NASA announced Tuesday in a blog post. The instrument had suffered a minor malfunction on August 24 due to increased friction in one of MRS’s grid wheels. Since then, the Webb science team had paused observations with that mode.
After an in-depth investigation, the team concluded that the failure was likely caused by “increased contact forces between the sub-components of the central wheel bearings under certain conditions,” NASA wrote. That particular mechanism essentially functions as a “grid wheel” for the MRS observation mode, allowing scientists to choose between short, medium and longer wavelengths when making observations.
The research team then developed a set of recommendations for using the grid wheel mechanism during scientific observations. On November 2, NASA conducted a technical test with new operational parameters based on predictions of wheel friction. The test was successful and MRS was given the green light to conduct scientific observations again.
MRS mode resumes at the perfect time as Webb gears up for a time-limited opportunity to see Saturn’s polar regions. After that, the planet’s poles will not be observed by Webb for another 20 years. But the science team is taking it easy at first, scheduling additional science observations for MRS to check how well it performs under the new operational parameters before fully resuming its normal schedule. according to the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Webb’s MIRI uses a camera and a spectrograph to see light in the mid-infrared part of the spectrum, wavelengths of light that are longer than what the human eye can see. MIRI has four observing modes: imaging, coronagraphic imaging, low-resolution spectroscopy, and medium-resolution spectroscopy. The MRS observing mode is useful for observing signals from the interaction of light and matter, like the emissions coming from molecules and dust in planet-forming disks.
The imaging instruments on Webb have been delivering stunning views of the cosmos. Most recently, Webb has captured the iconic Pillars of Creationrevealing the outstretched ‘hand’ of gas and dust in great detail.
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