The Webb Telescope’s mid-infrared camera is fully back in action after a worrying malfunction
After a break, one of the Webb Space Telescope’the cameras will be fully operational again after an engineering test that took place last week.
The Webb Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) will continue observations using its Medium Resolution Spectrometry (MRS) mode until November 12, NASA announced Tuesday in a blog post. He had an instrument suffered a minor breakdown on August 24 due to increased friction in one of MRS’s grid wheels. Since then, the Webb science team has paused observations using that mode.
After a thorough investigation, the team concluded that the fault was likely caused by “increased contact forces between sub-components of the wheel center bearing assembly under certain conditions,” NASA wrote. That particular mechanism essentially functions as a “grille wheel” for the MRS observing mode, allowing scientists to choose between short, medium and longer wavelengths when making observations.
The research team then developed a set of recommendations on how to use the lattice wheel mechanism during scientific observations. On November 2, NASA passed an engineering test with new operational parameters based on wheel friction predictions. The test was successful, and MRS was given the green light to conduct scientific observations once more.
MRS mode resumes at the perfect time, as the Web prepares for a limited-time opportunity to see Saturn’s polar regions. Webb won’t be able to see the planet’s poles for another 20 years after that. But the science team is going slow at first, scheduling additional science observations for the MRS to monitor how well it performs under the new operating parameters before fully resuming its regular 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 photographed the iconic Pillars of Creationrevealing the outstretched ‘arm’ of gas and dust in exquisite detail.
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