James Webb is currently having issues with its MIRI instrument. The problem is caused by increased friction in one of MIRI’s mechanisms when operating in the Medium-Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS) mode. The observatory is otherwise in good condition, but the team has decided to stop MRS observations until they find a solution.
The Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI)
onboard JWST is one of the most important instruments. It enables the telescope to see in the 5 to 27 micrometer wavelength range. There are four modes on the instrument: imaging, medium-resolution spectroscopy, low-resolution spectroscopy, and coronagraphy.
On August 24, while preparing for observations using MIRI’s medium-resolution spectroscopy mode (MRS), the team discovered a grating wheel problem. Its purpose is to distinguish between short, medium, and long wavelengths. Its function is to select between short, medium, and long wavelengths. The telescope detected increased friction in the mechanism during the setup process leading to scientific observation, which caused the problem.
Here’s an inside view of the MIRI instrument in spectroscopy mode:
Following preliminary health checks, an anomaly review board was formed on September 6 to determine the best course of action. As a result, JWST has paused MRS observations using MIRI until an adequate solution is found. MIRI’s three remaining modes are still operational. Other instruments are unaffected as well.
Prior Issues with James Webb
It is not the first time James Webb has encountered problems since its launch in December 2021. A larger-than-expected micrometeoroid previously struck one of JWST’s mirror segments. The team detected enough damage, but the quality of observations continues to exceed original expectations.
Despite the current issues, we should still expect new images. So the recent discoveries of the Tarantula and Orion Nebulae will not be the last. For the time being, the observatory can use a variety of other modes. Furthermore, there are many things that James Webb has observed but has not yet made public. Like the images taken by the TRAPPIST-1 system during its first month of scientific operation.
Hopefully, the team will be able to solve the current problem and get the telescope back up and running.