Saturday, June 16, 2012

MIRI Arrives in the United States

Science Warriors:

A small milestone in the construction and implementation of the James Webb Space Telescope has occurred. On May 29, 2012. the MIRI scientific instrument (the Mid-Infrared Instrument) has been delivered to NASA's Goddard facility ,from the European Space Agency, for testing and integration into the entire spacecraft.
MIRI as it underwent alignment testing at the
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Space in Oxfordshire, UK
The MIRI is the first of JWST's four principle scientific instruments to arrive. It was built by the European Space Agency by a collection or 10 European nations. Upon completion of MIRI, it was shipped to NASA'S Goddard facility in Greenbelt, Maryland for further testing and integration with the larger JWST. This will be one of the final steps for the MIRI instrument.

MIRI has a mid-IR camera and a imaging spectrometer, which will allow JWST to be able to see between 5 microns and 28 microns of light. This is an area of the electromagnetic spectrum that is just beyond normal human vision. It is important to study because it is a target area for the formation of the early universe, and the young galaxies and stars we expect to find there. Additionally, at this wavelength, MIRI will allow the James Webb Space Telescope to see through clouds of interstellar dust to see stars that appear obscured to non-IR telescopes. Stars tend to be born in that interstellar dust, so MIRI will allow JWST to understand the early years of a star's life in more detail. And what is even more incredible is that the MIRI instrument will also have the ability to block out the coronas of stars. Why do this? Well, it will help in studying extrasolar planets found in far away star systems.

ESA employees pose next to a wrapped-up, ready-to-ship MIRI in Europe. 
While at Goddard, MIRI will undergo inspection before being integrated into the ISIM (Integrated Science Instrument Module), where all four primary JWST science instruments will be housed on the telescope.

Additional information can be found in the following news stories:
This story offers some insight,
and this story from NASA is helpful, too.

Additionally, The United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Center has this to say about the MIRI. More information about what the MIRI is and what it will be capable of can also be found at this University of Arizona webpage. Background information on the science behind MIRI can be found at this page, which is also located at the University of Arizona. The James Webb Space Telescope, while a few years from launch, is coming together nicely.

MIRI being packed away in the UK. Goodbye Europe, hello Maryland! Click to embiggen.