James Webb Telescope suffers technical glitch, scientific operations paused; here’s what happened


James Webb team members have begun evaluating the observatory’s performance and formulating plans to begin MRS observations.

The James Webb Space Telescope is a technological wonder, but its location at a distance of 1 50,000 kilometres from Earth leaves it susceptible to damage from the vacuum of space. A problem with the spacecraft’s Mid-Infrared Instrument has caused a fresh technical complication (MIRI).

The Medium-Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS) mode, one of the instrument’s four, has been shown by NASA to have technical problems due to a mechanism that helps it function. Setup for a scientific observation on August 4 revealed increased friction in the medium-resolution spectroscopy.

Nasa immediately began conducting preliminary health checks and investigations into the problem, and on September 6 an anomaly review board was established to determine what should be done next. Until then, however, the Webb team has halted plans to schedule observations using this style of observation.

“The observatory is in good health, and MIRI’s other three observing modes imaging, low-resolution spectroscopy, and coronagraph are operating normally and remain available for science observations,” according to a statement released by ESA.

The malfunctioning mechanism is a grating wheel that lets scientists to switch between short, medium, and long wavelengths while doing observations in MRS mode. Webb team members have begun evaluating the observatory’s performance and formulating plans to begin MRS observations.

A suite of equipment known as the Mid-InfraRed Instrument allows the telescope to see into the infrared, namely between 5 and 28.3 microns. With MIRI, scientists are able to capture stunningly detailed and sensitive mid-infrared pictures and spectra.

A micrometeoroid hit the $10 billion observatory during the last stages of commissioning before it began scientific operations, thus this isn’t the first time the telescope has reported damage. Nasa reported that the James Webb Space Telescope suffered an impact on one of its main mirror segments between May 23 and May 25.

In order to better understand how to reinforce the observatory for use in orbit, the mirrors were developed using a combination of calculations and real test impacts on mirror samples.

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