A new instrument set to fly aboard NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope got its first taste of space in the test facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in the United Kingdom.
The Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) has been designed to contribute to areas of investigation as diverse as the first light in the early Universe and the formation of planets around other stars.
“The start of space simulation testing of the MIRI is the last major engineering activity needed to enable its delivery to NASA. It represents the culmination of 8 years of work by the MIRI consortium, and is a major progress milestone for the Webb telescope project,” said Matt Greenhouse of NASA.
The James Webb Space Telescope represents the next generation of space telescope and, unlike its predecessor Hubble, it will have to journey far from home. Its ultimate destination is L2, a gravitational pivot point located 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) away, on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun.
The MIRI provides imaging, coronagraphy and integral field spectroscopy over the 5-28 micron wavelength range.
The MIRI is one of four instruments flying aboard the Webb telescope. The other instruments include: NIRSpec (a near-infrared spectrograph), NIRCam (a near-infrared camera), and TFI (a tunable filter imager).
When the MIRI eventually reaches its sheltered position, located four times further away from the Earth than the Moon, scientists can begin probing the Universe”s secrets, including its earliest days.
“We”d like to try and identify very young galaxies, containing some of the first stars that formed in the Universe,” said Gillian Wright, European Principal Investigator for MIRI.