The Webb Telescope's mid-infrared camera is back in action after a worrying glitch

The Webb Telescope’s mid-infrared camera is back in action after a worrying glitch

The Webb Space Telescope before it is packed up and shipped to French Guiana for launch.

The Webb Space Telescope before it is packed up and shipped to French Guiana for launch.
Photo: Nasa

After a break, one of the Webb Space Telescope’The 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 Mid-Resolution Spectrometry (MRS) mode by Nov. 12, NASA announcement Tuesday in a blog post. The instrument had suffered a small glitch on August 24 due to increased friction in one of MRS’ grating wheels. Since then, Webb’s science team had suspended observations using this mode.

After further investigation, the team concluded that the issue was likely caused by “increased contact forces between wheel center bearing assembly subcomponents under certain conditions,” NASA wrote. This particular mechanism essentially functions as a “grid wheel” for the MRS observing mode, allowing scientists to choose between short, medium, and long wavelengths when making observations.

The investigation team then developed a set of recommendations on how to use 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 prepares for a limited-time opportunity to view Saturn’s polar regions. The planet’s poles will not be observable by Webb for another 20 years. But the science team takes its time at first, scheduling additional science observations for the MRS to monitor its performance under the new operational parameters before fully resuming its regular schedule, according to the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Webb’s MIRI uses a camera and 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 observation modes: imaging, coronagraphic imaging, low resolution spectroscopy and medium resolution spectroscopy. The MRS observation mode is useful for observing signals from the interaction of light and matter, such as emissions from molecules and dust in planet-forming disks.

Webb’s imaging instruments provided breathtaking views of the cosmos. More recently, Webb imaged the iconic Pillars of Creationrevealing the outstretched “hand” of gas and dust in exquisite detail.

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