NASA scientists have observed a technical problem with the James Webb Space Telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) instrument. Since its launch, the Webb telescope has been offering scientists unprecedented views into the universe beyond our planet, the most recent of which was the telescope’s first images and spectra of Mars. The space agency has convened an anomaly review board to investigate the issue.
The MIRI instrument has four observing modes—imaging, low-resolution spectroscopy, medium-resolution spectroscopy and coronagraphic imaging. “ On Aug. 24, a mechanism that supports medium-resolution spectroscopy (MRS), exhibited what appears to be increased friction during setup for a science observation. This mechanism is a grating wheel that allows scientists to select between short, medium, and longer wavelengths when making observations using the MRS mode,” said NASA in a press statement.
After performing preliminary health checks and investigations into the issue, NASA convened the anomaly review board on September 6 to assess the best path forward to fix the issue. In the meanwhile, the Webb team has paused scheduling observations using that particular observing mode while they analyse its behaviour.
The telescope continues to be in good health as the other three modes of MIRI are operating normally and are available for science observations. This is not the first incident faced by Webb. In July this year, NASA reported that the $10 billion space observatory was damaged after being hit by at least 19 small space rocks. One of the rocks left noticeable damage on one of the 18 gold-plated mirrors on the space telescope.
But scientists are prepared for these eventualities as the James Webb Space Telescope is designed to continue functioning even when it comes across such issues. Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, has run into a large number of technical issues since it began functioning over 30 years ago, but it is still going strong.