Space Exploration: MIRI’s sharper view hints at new possibilities for science

Washington, May 09, 2022.- The James Webb Space Telescope is aligned across all four of its science instruments, as seen in a previous engineering image showing the observatory’s full field of view. Now, we take a closer look at that same image, focusing on Webb’s coldest instrument: the Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI.

The MIRI test image (at 7.7 microns) shows part 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 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 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 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’ – molecules of carbon and hydrogen that play an important role in the thermal balance and chemistry of interstellar gas. When Webb is ready to begin science observations, studies such as these with MIRI will help give astronomers new insights into the birth of stars and protoplanetary systems.

In the meantime, the Webb team has begun the process of setting up and testing Webb’s instruments to begin science observations this summer. Today at 17:00 CEST, Webb experts will preview these next two months of instrument preparations in a teleconference for media. Listen to the audio stream live at nasa.gov/live.

Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and CSA. MIRI is part of Europe’s contribution to the Webb mission. It is a partnership between Europe and the USA; the main partners are ESA, a consortium of nationally funded European institutes, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).

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