The mid-infrared instrument, or MIRI, of the new space telescope james webbhas provided a foretaste of its capabilities to observe the cosmos.
With the four scientific instruments aligned and on top of a previous engineering image showing the observatory’s full field of view, ESA has now offered a closer look at that same image, constrained to MIRI’s observing range.
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The MIRI test image (at 7.7 microns) shows some of the Large Magellanic Cloud. This small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way provided a dense star field to test Webb’s performance.
Here, a close-up of the MIRI image is compared to an earlier image of the same target taken with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera (at 8.0 microns). Retired Spitzer was the first observatory to provide high-resolution images of the near- and mid-infrared Universe. Webb, by virtue of its significantly larger primary mirror and improved detectors, will allow us to see the infrared sky more clearly, enabling even more discoveries.
For example, Webb’s MIRI image shows interstellar gas in unprecedented detail. You can see the emission of “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons”, carbon and hydrogen molecules that play an important role in the thermal balance and chemistry of interstellar gas.
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When webb ready to begin science observations, studies like these with MIRI will help astronomers better understand the birth of stars and protoplanetary systems.
In the meantime, the Webb team has begun the process of setting up and testing the Webb instruments to begin science observations this summer, with the first “spectacular color images” of a scientific nature scheduled for mid-July.
NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), have formed a committee to create a classified list of objects, which they now intend to work on.