NASA scientists explain mid-infrared imagery aboard Webb telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope comes with a host of new technologies, but with that comes a range of new problems to be solved.

Published Wed, Dec 1 2021 4:30 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Dec 21 2021 7:27 PM CST

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is set to revolutionize in-space astronomy, picking up where Hubble will leave off with a host of new technologies.

NASA scientists explain mid-infrared imagery aboard Webb telescope 01 |

One of the instruments about the JWST is the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), which requires special cooling down to 6 Kelvin, something that engineers cannot fully test here on Earth. Hubble observes the universe in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, up to about 1.8-micrometer wavelengths. MIRI, as the name implies, sees into the mid-infrared part of the spectrum and beyond. MIRI will be able to see between 5 and 28-micron wavelength light.

"It's a different way of looking at the universe. And every time you look in a new way, you find stuff that you had no idea was out there," said Dr. Ressler of the ESA.

Every object the has warmth emits infrared radiation, and room temperature objects emit at ten microns. This radiation presents issues for MIRI, as its operation at such temperatures would radiate mid-infrared wavelengths that interfere with its ability to perceive the same wavelengths coming from space.

"And so we need to have the telescope cold so that it doesn't glow. Our instrument enclosure and all our optics need to be very cold so that they don't glow. And then just the technology, the detectors themselves require them to be very cold. Everything has to be so cold simply so that we're not washed out by this background from everything being warm," said Ressler.

The sun shield aboard the JWST can only cool the observatory to 40 Kelvin, compared to the 6 Kelvin necessary for proper operation. A cryocooler is required to bring the temperature down the rest of the way, introducing significantly more variables to manage, from excess vibrations to potential helium leaks. Without the ability to test many of these systems in their final complete configurations, everyone involved with the JWST awaits its launch and field testing with bated breath.

You can read more about the technology that went into these systems here.

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Adam grew up watching his dad play Turok 2 and Age of Empires on a PC in his computer room, and learned a love for video games through him. Adam was always working with computers, which helped build his natural affinity for working with them, leading to him building his own at 14, after taking apart and tinkering with other old computers and tech lying around. Adam has always been very interested in STEM subjects, and is always trying to learn more about the world and the way it works.

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