The James Webb Space Telescope is halfway through verifying its instrument modes for science operations, which are expected to begin in mid-July.
The James Webb Space Telescope is equipped with four state-of-the-art instruments, which will allow the $10 billion observatory to see the most distant and oldest galaxies, which formed in the early universe a few hundred million only years after the Big Bang, and to study their chemical composition. These instruments have 17 science modes between them, and each science mode must be tested before the telescope can begin science operations in mid-July.
“To date, 7 of Webb’s 17 instrument modes are science-ready,” NASA said. said on Twitter (opens in a new tab) Friday (June 17).
“Each mode has a set of observations and analyzes that need to be verified,” explained Jonathan Gardner, deputy principal scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in a blog post on May 12. . “Some of the modes will only be checked at the very end of the commissioning”,
A detailed list of instrument mode “checks” is also available on the agency’s “Where’s Webb” webpage.
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Webb has four main instruments, each of which can observe the universe in multiple modes ranging from time-series observations to observing multiple stars and galaxies at the same time.
Gardner said that for each of the 17 modes, the team selected a “representative example of a science objective” that will be observed during Webb’s first year of science operations, called Cycle 1.
“These are just examples,” added Gardner. “Each mode will be used for many targets, and most Webb science targets will be observed with more than one instrument and/or mode.”
The full list of Cycle 1 observations is available on this website (opens in a new tab) of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which manages Webb’s operations. The investigations cover Webb’s main scientific goals, which include everything from observing very old galaxies to examining planets, moons, asteroids and other objects in our solar system.
The telescope is in the home stretch of its commissioning period before the July 12 release of the first operational images. (Webb officials are still keeping those early imaging targets secret.)
Instruments of the James Webb Space Telescope
The near infrared camera (NIRCAM):
NIRCam will be crucial to achieving Webb’s flagship goal: detecting light from the first stars and galaxies. It is not just a simple infrared camera, but it is equipped with some additional tools called coronagraphs. Coronagraphs will allow astronomers to block light from a star and watch what is happening around it, making it ideal for discovering orbiting exoplanets.
The near infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec):
NIRspec is the primary tool for cracking the chemistry of the universe. It will split light from the distant universe into spectra, revealing the properties of observed objects, including their temperature, mass and chemical composition.
Because some of these objects are extremely distant and the light coming from them will be extremely faint, the James Webb Space Telescope, despite its giant mirror, will have to stare at them for hundreds of hours. To make these observations more efficient, NIRSPec will be able to observe 100 such distant galaxies at the same time.
“It basically allows you to open little doors and let in light from one galaxy, but then block out all the light from everything else,” McCaughrean said. “But you can open 100 doors at once, for example. So it’s very sophisticated and it’s never been done in space.”
The Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI):
MIRI is a combination of a camera and a spectrograph, but unlike the previous two, it observes in the longer wavelengths of the mid-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which will make it a must-have instrument for anyone who seek to study everything from comets and asteroids on the outskirts of the solar system to newly born stars and distant galaxies. MIRI’s images will be the closest to those that made the Hubble Space Telescope a legend.
Fine Guidance Sensor/Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (FGS/NIRISS):
FGS/NIRISS will also contribute to the detection of the first light, the detection of exoplanets and the analysis of their chemistry.