Issues with the James Webb Space Telescope


Bad news has arrived from space. Some issues have been detected with the James Webb Space Telescope. One of the instruments that make up the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) has experienced a minor anomaly. Fortunately, the James Webb is still healthy and fully capable of decoding the universe invisible to our eyes.

Problems with the MRS Instrument

James Webb team has announced that one of the four observation modes of MIRI has encountered issues. Specifically, there is a reduction in the amount of light recorded by the instrument. After conducting an investigation, NASA has stated that this change does not pose a risk to the scientific capabilities of MIRI. “There is no risk to the instrument” said the American space agency in a blog post on Thursday, August 24 (ref.).

Unfortunately, the anomaly could impact the required exposure time when the instrument switches to the affected particular mode. The function under examination is called medium-resolution spectroscopy (MRS) (ref.). This is calibrated to obtain infrared data from distant regions of the cosmos associated with wavelengths ranging from 5 to 28.5 microns. This range is typically where emissions from molecules and dust are found, making MRS perfect for detecting forming planet disks.

As NASA explains, the reduced signal is specific to MIRI imaging at the longer wavelengths. One of the other MIRI modes, called low-resolution spectroscopy, specialized in wavelengths ranging from 5 to 12 microns typically associated with the surfaces of objects like planets, is functioning normally.

Space telescope is in good health

A fourth MIRI mode, called Coronagraphic Imaging, is currently under investigation. This feature is useful for directly detecting exoplanets and dust disks around host stars. The mechanism known as coronagraphy relies on blocking light from a source to gather data on surrounding objects.

The James Webb team has also confirmed that the observatory is generally in “good health” and that “all other Webb scientific instruments remain unchanged”. These include the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), and the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS).

Stefano Gallotta
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