The second of four primary scientific instruments on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is now ready for science, after the Mid-Infrared instrument (MIRI), concluded its postlaunch preparations.
“We are thrilled that MIRI is now a functioning, state-of-the-art instrument with performances across all its capabilities better than expected. Our multinational commissioning team has done a fantastic job getting MIRI ready in the space of just a few weeks. Now we celebrate all the people, scientists, engineers, managers, national agencies, ESA, and NASA, who have made this instrument a reality as MIRI begins to explore the infrared universe in ways and to depths never achieved before,”
said Gillian Wright, MIRI European principal investigator at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, and George Rieke, MIRI science lead at the University of Arizona.
The other primary scientific instruments onboard are:
- NIRCam (Near InfraRed Camera)
- NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph)
- FGS/NIRISS (Fine Guidance Sensor and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph)
Along with those three other instruments, MIRI first cooled off in the shade of Webb’s tennis-court-size sunshield to about 90 Kelvin (minus 298 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 183 degrees Celsius).
Extreme Operating Temperatures
In order to carry out its intended science, MIRI is required to drop to minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit — just a few degrees above the lowest temperature matter can reach — through the use of an electrically powered cryocooler.
These extreme operating temperatures allow for MIRI to deliver mid-infrared images and spectra with an unprecedented combination of sharpness and sensitivity.
The last MIRI mode to be checked off was its coronagraphic imaging capability, which uses two different styles of masks to intentionally block starlight from hitting its sensors when attempting to make observations of the star’s orbiting planets.
These customized masks allow scientists to directly detect exoplanets and study dust disks around their host stars in a way that’s never been done before.
The release of the first science-quality images from the JWST is scheduled to happen during a live event on July 12.
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