The second of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s four main scientific instruments, known as the Mid-Infrared (MIRI) spacecraft, has completed its post-launch preparations and is now ready for science.
The final mode of MIRI is to test its coronagraphic imaging capabilities, which use two different styles of masks to deliberately block the starlight from striking its nerves when attempting to look at the star’s orbiting planets. These custom-made masks allow scientists to see the exoplanet directly and unprecedentedly study the discs of dust near their holding stars.
Along with three other Webb instruments, MIRI first cooled in the shadow of a tennis court to the size of a tennis court at about 90 Kelvin (minus 298 degrees Fahrenheit, or subtract 183 degrees Celsius). Using an electric cryocooler, performing target science meant dropping below 7 Kelvin — just a few degrees above the minimum possible temperature. These active temperatures allow MIRI to produce medium-infrared images and spectra with unprecedented sharpness and sensitivity.
“We are pleased that MIRI is now a more efficient, sophisticated tool that works in all its capabilities better than expected. Our internationally accredited team did a great job of renovating MIRI in just a few weeks. National agencies, ESA, and NASA, have made this tool a reality as MIRI begins to explore the infrared universe in ways and depths that have never been achieved before, “said Gillian Wright. MIRI Europe’s chief investigator at the U.K. Astronomy Technology Center, and George Rieke, who leads MIRI science at the University of Arizona. MIRI was developed as a partnership between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory leading U.S. efforts. And the international association of European star centers offers ESA.
After completing NIRISS and MIRI activities after the launch, the Webb team will continue to focus on exploring the two remaining routes in its other facilities. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, in partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA, will release its first full-color images and spectroscopic data on July 12, 2022.