The countdown has begun for the release of the first science images from the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for July 12. But before full science operations begin, each of Webb’s four instruments must be calibrated and checked in its various modes to make sure it’s ready to collect data. This week, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) completed its checks and NASA has announced it is ready for science.
Unlike Webb’s other three instruments that operate in the near-infrared range, MIRI operates in the mid-infrared, which means it has some quirks. It was the last instrument to reach its operating temperature because the silicon detectors have to be so cold to operate — at temperatures below 7 degrees Kelvin. To precisely control the temperature, the MIRI instrument has both a heater and a cooler. MIRI reached its operating temperature in April this year and since then it has gone through an extensive calibration process and engineers have confirmed that the imaging, the low and medium resolution spectroscopy and finally the coronagraphic imaging modes are all ready to use.
“We are delighted that MIRI is now a functioning, state-of-the-art instrument with performance in all its capabilities that is better than expected,” Gillian Wright, European principal investigator of MIRI and MIRI science leader George Rieke said in a statement. “Our multinational commissioning team did a fantastic job getting MIRI ready in just a few weeks. Now we celebrate all people, scientists, engineers, managers, national agencies, ESA [European Space Agency]and NASA, who have made this instrument a reality as MIRI begins to explore the infrared universe in ways and depths never reached before.”
You can follow the progress of James Webb getting his four instruments ready for their seventeen modes on the James Webb tracker on NASA’s website. Currently, sixteen of the modes are science ready, with only the coronagraphy mode of the NIRCam instrument yet to be signed off. Once this is done, Webb will be ready for scientific operations, viewing the atmospheres of exoplanets, finding some of the earliest galaxies in the universe, and much more.