NASA's Webb Telescope MIRI Instrument Takes One Step Closer To Space
A major instrument due to fly aboard NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is getting 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, NASA Project Scientist for the Webb telescope Integrated Science Instrument Module, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

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. Here it is cool enough for the MIRI to obtain exquisite measurements that astronomers will use to help decipher the Universe. "At L2 we are at an environmentally stable point where we can be permanently shaded from light from the Sun and Earth. That allows us to reach the very low temperatures - as low as 7K in the case of MIRI – that are necessary to measure in the mid-infrared," says Jose Lorenzo Alvarez, MIRI Instrument Manager for European Space Agency (ESA).

The MIRI provides imaging, coronagraphy and integral field spectroscopy over the 5-28 micron wavelength range. It is being developed as a partnership between Europe and the U.S. The MIRI is one of four instruments flying aboard the Webb telescope. The other instruments include: NIRSpec, NIRCam, and TFI. One of the jewels in the MIRI's crown is the potential to observe star formation that has been triggered by an interaction between galaxies. This phenomena has been difficult to study with Hubble or ground-based telescopes since the optical and near-infrared light from these newly formed stars is hidden from view by clouds of dust that typically surround newly formed stars This will not be a problem for MIRI, as it is sensitive to longer wavelengths of light in the range 5 to 28 microns, which can penetrate the dust.

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