The new James Webb Space Telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, has delivered a preview of its capabilities for observing the wonders of the universe. With the four scientific instruments aligned, researchers have created a GIF comparison image superimposing an older image of a region of space taken with a different telescope, with a new view from the Webb Space Telescope.
The results are fascinating and we cannot wait for Webb to complete its necessary tests and being exploring the cosmos.
Comparing two images
Part of the Large Magellanic Cloud is visible in the MIRI test image (at 7.7 microns). According to the European Space Agence, the starfield of this small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way provided a dense environment for testing Webb’s performance.
The MIRI image at close-up is compared to an Infrared Array Camera image (at 8.0 microns) taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in the past. The Spitzer observatory was the first to obtain high-resolution images in the near- and mid-infrared.
We’ll be able to see the infrared sky with increased clarity thanks to Webb’s new primary mirror and enhanced detectors, enabling even more discoveries and observing the cosmos as we have never done before.
The image of interstellar gas in Webb’s MIRI shows details that have eluded the eyes of experts in the past. A good example of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which play a vital role in the thermal balance of interstellar gas and its chemistry, is shown in the new photograph by Webb.
Studying the way stars are born, and protoplanetary systems form with MIRI will provide astronomers with new insight when Webb begins observations.
To begin science observations this summer, the Webb team is currently setting up and testing the telescope’s instruments.
NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency are collaborating on the Webb mission. A component of Europe’s participation is MIRI.
The James Webb Space Telescope
The study of the early universe is one of the most important steps in understanding how the cosmos works. One of the things that the JWT is tasked with doing is observing the universe further back in time than any other space telescope has ever done. This will allow experts to better understand how our cosmos has been evolving for billions of years, and where it will go from now on.
In addition to cracking the secrets of the universe, the James Webb Space Telescope will also help astronomers understand how black holes and galaxies are formed and evolve. Besides providing scientists with unprecedented information about stars, other solar systems, and exoplanets, the JWT will also be monitoring their atmospheres.
The instruments installed in the JWT are the mid-infrared spectrograph and camera (MIRI), the NIRSpec near-infrared spectrograph which is a multi-object spectrograph that can observe over 100 astronomical objects simultaneously in a large field of view of ~ 3 arcminutes × 3 arcminutes. The Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) is Webb’s primary imager that will cover the infrared wavelength range of 0.6 to 5 microns, according to the European Space Agency.
Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and NIRISS are integrated into a single module. As one of Webb’s mission-critical subsystems, FGS keeps the observatory pointed at its target with unprecedented accuracy, ensuring the sharpest images possible. FGS can detect angular displacements as small as one hair’s thickness as seen from a kilometer away.
Together, these tools will allow astronomers to make discoveries they’ve never dreamt of making before. In other words, the James Webb Space Telescope will completely alter our understanding of the universe, and we cannot wait to see its next images.
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