The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope is aligned across all four of its science instruments, as seen in a previous engineering image. The Webb team took a closer look at the same image, focusing on Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI).
Webb’s MIRI instrument has both a camera and a spectrograph that sees light in the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, with wavelengths that are longer than our eyes see. It covers the wavelength range of 5 to 28 microns.
MIRI’s sensitive detectors will allow it to see the redshifted light of distant galaxies, protostars, and faintly visible comets as well as objects in the Kuiper belt.
Its camera will provide wide-field, broadband imaging that will continue the breathtaking astrophotography that has made the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope so universally admired.
Its spectrograph will enable medium-resolution spectroscopy, providing new physical details of the distant objects it will observe.
The new MIRI test image — at 7.7 microns — shows part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way located about 160,000 light-years away.
“This small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way provided a dense star field to test Webb’s performance,” Webb astronomers said.
“Here, a close-up of the MIRI image is compared to a past image of the same target taken with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera (at 8.0 microns).”
“The retired Spitzer telescope was one of NASA’s Great Observatories and the first to provide high-resolution images of the near- and mid-infrared Universe.”
“Webb, with its significantly larger primary mirror and improved detectors, will allow us to see the infrared sky with improved clarity, enabling even more discoveries.”
For example, Webb’s MIRI image shows the interstellar gas in unprecedented detail.
“Here, you can see the emission from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or molecules of carbon and hydrogen that play an important role in the thermal balance and chemistry of interstellar gas,” the researchers said.
“When Webb is ready to begin science observations, studies such as these with MIRI will help give us new insights into the birth of stars and protoplanetary systems.”
In the meantime, the Webb astronomers have begun the process of setting up and testing the telescope’s instruments to begin science observations this summer.
This article is based on text provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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