Mid-Infrared Instrument Operations Update

The James Webb Space Telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) has four observing modes. On Aug. 24, a mechanism that supports one of these modes, known as medium-resolution spectroscopy (MRS), exhibited what appears to be increased friction during setup for a science observation. This mechanism is a grating wheel that allows scientists to select between short, medium, and longer wavelengths when making observations using the MRS mode. Following preliminary health checks and investigations into the issue, an anomaly review board was convened Sept. 6 to assess the best path forward.

The Webb team has paused in scheduling observations using this particular observing mode while they continue to analyze its behavior and are currently developing strategies to resume MRS observations as soon as possible. The observatory is in good health, and MIRI’s other three observing modes – imaging, low-resolution spectroscopy, and coronagraphy – are operating normally and remain available for science observations.

Webb’s Scientific Method, What to Expect

Right now, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is in space capturing spectacular images and spectrum of the universe; all of these data reside in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the science operations center for Webb. However, it takes time for these exciting new observations to make their way from raw data to published, peer-reviewed science.

Peer Review
Scientific peer review is a long-established, quality-control system, where new scientific discoveries are scrutinized by experts before they are published in a journal. The peer review process begins when a scientist or group of scientists completes a study of a particular object in the sky and then submits their written findings to an accredited journal for publication. The journal’s editors will then circulate the article to other scientists within the same field to gather their reviews and feedback. Only articles that meet good scientific standards, acknowledging and building upon other known works, make it through this process and are published in the journal. NASA relies on this peer-review process to ensure quality and accuracy of scientific results before sharing them with the public.

Since Webb’s discoveries are so new, they require time to be vetted by the peer-review process, and a pipeline of articles under peer review is growing as the telescope continues to make observations from its first year of planned science. This pipeline of articles will feed future Webb news as scientists with peer-reviewed articles submit their findings to the STScI news office for consideration for promotion.

Preprints 
Many Webb investigators, however, are also taking advantage of the way that the scientific publication landscape has changed in the last decade. They create draft papers that are sometimes publicly posted as “preprints” before the full peer-review process is complete. This previewing stage allows for discussion within the science community, and researchers sometimes use this feedback to improve their written papers before they formally submit to a journal. At this stage, papers, imagery, figures, and initial analyses are public – but not yet considered part of the fully peer-reviewed scientific literature.

NASA and STScI, in collaboration with the science community, may share some imagery or spectra from papers prior to peer review, much like the recently published exoplanet images, as well as images from Webb data publicly available in the MAST archive. Those shared, but still awaiting peer review, will be labeled appropriately to describe where in the process the image or data and results are. Important scientific conclusions and discoveries from these images will be shared later, after peer review.

What to Expect
Starting the week of Sep. 19, NASA will share a new Webb image or spectrum at least every other week. Check the Webb blog every other Monday to find out when to expect that week’s image.

NASA will also hold media availability calls with subject matter experts as needed to answer questions about the latest images, spectra, and science from Webb.

-Thaddeus Cesari, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

 

News Media Contacts

Alise Fisher
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-2546
alise.m.fisher@nasa.gov

Laura Betz
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
301-286-9030
laura.e.betz@nasa.gov

 

How to Follow Webb’s Next Steps

This illustration depicts NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope – the largest, most powerful, and most complex space science telescope ever built – fully unfolded in space. Credits: NASA/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

Now that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s first images and data are out, you might be wondering: What comes next?

The observatory has a packed schedule of science programs looking at all kinds of cosmic phenomena, like planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, and more. Webb will revolutionize our understanding of the universe — but first, researchers need time to analyze data and make sure that they understand what they’re seeing. Here are four things to know about Webb’s next steps:

More images are coming. Webb has already captured more images beyond the ones you saw on July 12, and the Cartwheel Galaxy is just one example. Hold onto your intergalactic hats — we’ll be rolling those out in the coming weeks at nasa.gov/webb and on the NASAWebb social media channels. Some of those images give a first look at Webb’s capabilities, but are not part of science programs. In the meantime, you can revisit the first images at nasa.gov/webbfirstimages. We also have this page where you can find the full array of images and data at full resolution.

News releases on results will be coming, too, once they have been reviewed. You may have seen scientists on social media posting their preliminary findings from Webb data. But before NASA publicizes results in news materials, we wait for the findings to be peer-reviewed — meaning, the science community has assessed the results. Science is a collaborative process of asking questions, testing out ideas, discussing with colleagues, and doing it all over. The peer-review process generally happens when researchers submit their findings to a journal or conference. It may take a little while, but it’s worth it.

There is other publicly available data you can check out. Anyone can take a deep dive into what Webb saw during the commissioning period, such as images of Jupiter and some of its moons. Check out the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, which scientists call “MAST,” for what’s out there right now.

The current Webb observing schedule is set and available. If you want to find out what Webb is looking at this week, visit the Space Telescope Science Institute’s weekly schedule to find out which cosmic objects the observatory is checking out. The full buffet of Webb observations for the next year, known as Cycle 1, is available here.

Thanks for being part of this historic journey!

-Elizabeth Landau, NASA Headquarters

Senior Project Scientist John Mather Reflects on Journey to Webb’s First Images

People around the world joined together in excitement as the first color scientific images and spectra from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope were revealed this week. Webb is fully commissioned and already embarked on its first year of peer-reviewed science programs. We asked Webb senior project scientist John Mather to reflect on reaching this moment after 25 years, taking Webb from an initial spark of an idea to the world’s premier space observatory.

Credit: NASA/Taylor Mickal

“It was worth the wait! Our immense golden telescope is seeing where none have seen before, discovering what we never knew before, and we are proud of what we have done. It’s our day to thank the people who made it possible, from the scientific visionaries in 1989 and 1995, to the 20,000 engineers, technicians, computer programmers, and scientists who did the work, and to the representatives of the people in the U.S., Europe, and Canada, who had faith in us and supported us. And special thanks to Senator Barbara Mikulski, who saved not one but two telescopes, with her inspiration and determination that setbacks are never the end. And special thanks to Goddard Project Manager Bill Ochs and Northrop Grumman Project Manager Scott Willoughby, who together pulled us all through every challenge to complete success.

“Already we have stood on the shoulders of giants like the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, and seen farther. We have seen distant galaxies, as they were when the universe was less than a billion years old, and we’re just beginning the search. We have seen galaxies colliding and merging, revealing their chemical secrets. We have seen one black hole close up, in the nucleus of a nearby galaxy, and measured the material escaping from it. We’ve seen the debris when a star exploded, liberating the chemical elements that will build the next generations of stars and planets. We have started a search for Earth 2.0, by watching a planet transiting in front of its star, and measuring the molecules in its atmosphere.

“What comes next? All the tools are working, better than we hoped and promised. Scientific observations, proposed years ago, are being made as we speak. We want to know: Where did we come from? What happened after the big bang to make galaxies and stars and black holes? We have predictions and guesses, but astronomy is an observational science, full of surprises. What are the dark matter and dark energy doing? How do stars and planets grow inside those beautiful clouds of gas and dust? Do the rocky planets we can observe with Webb have any atmosphere at all, and is there water there? Are there any planetary systems like our solar system? So far we have found exactly none. We’ll look at our own solar system with new infrared eyes, looking for chemical traces of our history, and tracking down mysteries like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, composition of the ocean under the ice of Europa, and the atmosphere of Saturn’s giant moon Titan. We’ll be ready to study the next interstellar comet.

“With the precise launch on Christmas morning 2021, we look forward to 20 years of operation before we run out of propellant. Though we suffer the pings of tiny micrometeoroids, so tiny you couldn’t feel one if you had it in your fingers, we think the telescope can meet its original performance likely long beyond its five-year design life. In 2027 we will launch the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which will scan vast areas of the sky for new fascinating targets for Webb, while also hunting for the effects of dark matter and dark energy. We know the Webb images will rewrite our textbooks, and we hope for a new discovery, something so important that our view of the universe will be overturned once again.

Webb was worth the wait!”

– John Mather, Webb senior project scientist, NASA Goddard

NASA’s Webb Telescope Is Now Fully Ready for Science

The months-long process of preparing NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope for science is now complete. All of the seventeen ways or ‘modes’ to operate Webb’s scientific instruments have now been checked out, which means that Webb has completed its commissioning activities and is ready to begin full scientific operations.

Each of Webb’s four scientific instruments has multiple modes of operation, utilizing customized lenses, filters, prisms, and specialized machinery that needed to be individually tested, calibrated, and ultimately verified in their operational configuration in space before beginning to capture precise scientific observations of the universe. The last of all seventeen instrument modes to be commissioned was NIRCam’s coronagraph capability, which works to mostly block incoming starlight by inserting a mask in front of a target star, suppressing the target star’s relatively bright light to increase contrast and enable detection of fainter nearby companions such as exoplanets. NIRCam, or the Near-Infrared Camera, is equipped with five coronagraphic masks — three round masks and two bar-shaped masks — that suppress starlight under different conditions of contrast and separation between the star and its companions.

In addition to capturing detailed imagery of the universe, NIRCam is the observatory’s main wavefront sensor that is used to fine-tune the telescope’s optics. It has this double duty by design due to having a comparatively wide field of view and possessing a suite of special internal optics that enable it to take out-of-focus images of stars and even take ‘selfie’ images of the primary mirror itself. The team was able to start aligning the telescope’s optics even while the observatory was still cooling down, because of NIRCam’s ability to safely operate at higher-than-normal, but still cryogenic, operating temperatures.

“From the moment we first took images with NIRCam to start the telescope alignment process to the checkout of coronagraphy at the end of commissioning, NIRCam has performed flawlessly. Observers are going to be very pleased with the data they receive, and I am extremely happy with how 20 years of work by my team are now realized in amazing performance,” said Marcia Rieke, principal investigator for the NIRCam instrument and regents professor of astronomy, University of Arizona.

Webb’s commissioning process culminates tomorrow on July 12, with the release of the telescope’s first full-color images and spectroscopic data, and the official beginning of its science mission.

-Thaddeus Cesari, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Webb: The World Is About To Be New Again

As the Webb team wraps up the final tests for commissioning this week, we are now only days away from the public release of the first images and spectra on July 12! This also means that Webb is moving into the phase of full science operations that includes a highly impressive suite of science programs from the solar system to the distant universe. The entire Webb team is ready to celebrate the long journey to this point and embark on the next few decades of groundbreaking infrared astronomy.

Eric Smith, Webb program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, has been with Webb since its beginnings in the mid-1990s. We asked him to share his thoughts as we finalize commissioning and prepare for the first images release next week:

“Even after working on the program for many years, I’m as excited as everyone else who is anticipating the release of the first beautiful full-color images and data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope – an audacious endeavor in partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies. From a professional perspective, I’m thrilled with the mission and the realization that astronomers around the world will receive an amazing new tool to explore space. Webb joins existing Great Observatories, like NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, giving scientists ‘eyes’ from Webb’s infrared vision through the visible, ultraviolet part of the spectrum to X-rays. A fantastic new era is upon us as these powerful facilities complement one another to investigate the cosmos.

“Yet, as stunning as these capabilities are, NASA is always looking to the future. Even today, we are constructing the next great observatory that will come after Webb, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. Unlike the existing facilities, Roman is designed to capture images of huge portions of the sky all at once, allowing scientists to look for very rare and even time-variable phenomena. This impressive survey capability will come online in the latter half of the decade. As if that is not amazing enough, we’ve begun to think about how we might build a telescope specifically designed to image and study nearby exoplanets in ways impossible today even with Webb. All the facilities we currently have, and those in the planning stage, arose from questions ignited by astronomers seeking to answer age-old questions about our universe using previous observatories. What questions might Webb observations raise now that will turn our curiosity to things unimagined? We will soon begin to know how Webb will transform our understanding of the universe.

“On a personal level, my family was recently blessed with the arrival of our first grandchild. Watching her awaken to her surroundings rejuvenates the world for me. Anyone who has been a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or had the fortune to spend time with infants and toddlers may have experienced this joy in seeing the curiosity and interest of someone experiencing fresh and novel sights and sounds. With each blink and head turn, they learn more about the place they live, constantly developing and improving their own conceptions about what different and initially strange things are and how they relate to them. With each blink and head turn, their new perspective recalls for us distant memories when all was new and exciting in the world. These joyful moments of seeing things for the first time through the eyes of a child are experienced at the individual level and in small family gatherings. Rarer are the moments when we can collectively experience this rush of discovery and wonder. The James Webb Space Telescope will give us a fresh and powerful set of eyes to examine our universe.

Blink

The world is about to be new again.”

Part of the Webb team in front of a full-scale model at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in 2005. Credit: NASA

Eric Smith, Webb program scientist, NASA Headquarters

Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor Provides a Preview

We are less than one week away from the release of the first full-color images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, but how does the observatory find and lock onto its targets? Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) – developed by the Canadian Space Agency – was designed with this particular question in mind. Recently it captured a view of stars and galaxies that provides a tantalizing glimpse at what the telescope’s science instruments will reveal in the coming weeks, months, and years.

FGS has always been capable of capturing imagery, but its primary purpose is to enable accurate science measurements and imaging with precision pointing. When it does capture imagery, the imagery is typically not kept: Given the limited communications bandwidth between L2 and Earth, Webb only sends data from up to two science instruments at a time. But during a week-long stability test in May, it occurred to the team that they could keep the imagery that was being captured because there was available data transfer bandwidth.

The resulting engineering test image has some rough-around-the-edges qualities to it. It was not optimized to be a science observation; rather, the data was taken to test how well the telescope could stay locked onto a target, but it does hint at the power of the telescope. It carries a few hallmarks of the views Webb has produced during its postlaunch preparations. Bright stars stand out with their six, long, sharply defined diffraction spikes – an effect due to Webb’s six-sided mirror segments. Beyond the stars, galaxies fill nearly the entire background.

The result – using 72 exposures over 32 hours – is among the deepest images of the universe ever taken, according to Webb scientists. When FGS’ aperture is open, it is not using color filters like the other science instruments – meaning it is impossible to study the age of the galaxies in this image with the rigor needed for scientific analysis. But even when capturing unplanned imagery during a test, FGS is capable of producing stunning views of the cosmos.

This Fine Guidance Sensor test image was acquired in parallel with NIRCam imaging of the star HD147980 over a period of eight days at the beginning of May. This engineering image represents a total of 32 hours of exposure time at several overlapping pointings of the Guider 2 channel. The observations were not optimized for detection of faint objects, but nevertheless the image captures extremely faint objects and is, for now, the deepest image of the infrared sky. The unfiltered wavelength response of the guider, from 0.6 to 5 micrometers, helps provide this extreme sensitivity. The image is mono-chromatic and is displayed in false color with white-yellow-orange-red representing the progression from brightest to dimmest. The bright star (at 9.3 magnitude) on the right hand edge is 2MASS 16235798+2826079. There are only a handful of stars in this image – distinguished by their diffraction spikes. The rest of the objects are thousands of faint galaxies, some in the nearby universe, but many, many more in the distant universe. Credit: NASA, CSA, and FGS team.

“With the Webb telescope achieving better-than-expected image quality, early in commissioning we intentionally defocused the guiders by a small amount to help ensure they met their performance requirements. When this image was taken, I was thrilled to clearly see all the detailed structure in these faint galaxies. Given what we now know is possible with deep broad-band guider images, perhaps such images, taken in parallel with other observations where feasible, could prove scientifically useful in the future,” said Neil Rowlands, program scientist for Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor, at Honeywell Aerospace.

Because this image was not created with a science result in mind, there are a few features that are quite different than the full-resolution images that will be released July 12. Those images will include what will be – for a short time at least – the deepest image of the universe ever captured, as NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced on June 29.

The FGS image is colored using the same reddish color scheme that has been applied to Webb’s other engineering images throughout commissioning. In addition, there was no “dithering” during these exposures. Dithering is when the telescope repositions slightly between each exposure. In addition, the centers of bright stars appear black because they saturate Webb’s detectors, and the pointing of the telescope didn’t change over the exposures to capture the center from different pixels within the camera’s detectors. The overlapping frames of the different exposures can also be seen at the image’s edges and corners.

In this engineering test, the purpose was to lock onto one star and to test how well Webb could control its “roll” – literally, Webb’s ability to roll to one side like an aircraft in flight. That test was performed successfully – in addition to producing an image that sparks the imagination of scientists who will be analyzing Webb’s science data, said Jane Rigby, Webb’s operations scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“The faintest blobs in this image are exactly the types of faint galaxies that Webb will study in its first year of science operations,” Rigby said.

While Webb’s four science instruments will ultimately reveal the telescope’s new view of the universe, the Fine Guidance Sensor is the one instrument that will be used in every single Webb observation over the course of the mission’s lifetime. FGS has already played a crucial role in aligning Webb’s optics. Now, during the first real science observations made in June and once science operations begin in mid-July, it will guide each Webb observation to its target and maintain the precision necessary for Webb to produce breakthrough discoveries about stars, exoplanets, galaxies, and even moving targets within our solar system.

By Patrick Lynch, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

 

How To See Webb’s First Images!

The public release of Webb’s first images and spectra is July 12 – now less than two weeks away! The Webb team has confirmed that that 15 out of 17 instrument modes are ready for science, with just two more still to go. As we near the end of commissioning, we wanted to let you know where you can see the first Webb science data and how to participate in the celebration of Webb science! Here are all the ways you can #UnfoldTheUniverse with Webb:

Countdown: How many minutes left? The official countdown is at https://webb.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/countdown.html

Watch: See the images revealed in real-time and hear from experts about the exciting results on NASA TV at 10:30am Eastern on July 12: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive

View: Just interested in the amazing imagery? You will be able to find the first images and spectra at: https://www.nasa.gov/webbfirstimages

Participate: Attend, virtually or in-person, one of hundreds of official Webb Space Telescope Community Events happening in the next few months! Find an event near you at: https://webbtelescope.org/news/first-images/events

Socialize: Follow along on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with @NASA and @NASAWebb using #UnfoldTheUniverse!

Download: High-resolution downloads and supplemental content will be available for download at: https://webbtelescope.org/news/first-images

Ask: On July 13, ask your questions about these first images and spectra using #UnfoldtheUniverse, and you could see them answered on NASA Science Live at: https://www.nasa.gov/nasasciencelive

We look forward to celebrating the official kickoff of Webb science with you soon!


– Alexandra Lockwood, project scientist for Webb science communications, Space Telescope Science Institute

-Stefanie Milam, Webb deputy project scientist for planetary science, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

-Jonathan Gardner, Webb deputy senior project scientist, NASA Goddard

 

 

 

Another Webb Telescope Instrument Gets the “Go for Science”

The second of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s four primary scientific instruments, known as the Mid-Infrared instrument (MIRI), has concluded its postlaunch preparations and is now ready for science.

The last MIRI mode to be checked off was its coronagraphic imaging capability, which uses two different styles of masks to intentionally block starlight from hitting its sensors when attempting to make observations of the star’s orbiting planets. These customized masks allow for scientists to directly detect exoplanets and study dust disks around their host stars in a way that’s never been done before.

Along with Webb’s three other instruments, MIRI initially cooled off in the shade of Webb’s tennis-court-size sunshield to about 90 kelvins (minus 298 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 183 degrees Celsius). To perform its intended science meant dropping to less than 7 kelvins — just a few degrees above the lowest temperature matter can reach — by using an electrically powered cryocooler. These extreme operating temperatures allow for MIRI to deliver mid-infrared images and spectra with an unprecedented combination of sharpness and sensitivity.

“We are thrilled that MIRI is now a functioning, state-of-the-art instrument with performances across all its capabilities better than expected. Our multinational commissioning team has done a fantastic job getting MIRI ready in the space of just a few weeks. Now we celebrate all the people, scientists, engineers, managers, national agencies, ESA, and NASA, who have made this instrument a reality as MIRI begins to explore the infrared universe in ways and to depths never achieved before,” said Gillian Wright, MIRI European principal investigator at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, and George Rieke, MIRI science lead at the University of Arizona. MIRI was developed as a partnership between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory leading the U.S. efforts and a multi-national consortium of European astronomical institutes contributing for ESA.

With NIRISS and MIRI postlaunch commissioning activities concluded, the Webb team will continue to focus on checking off the remaining two modes on its other instruments. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA, will release its first full-color images and spectroscopic data on July 12, 2022.


-Thaddeus Cesari, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

 

Webb’s NIRISS Ready to See Cosmos in Over 2,000 Infrared Colors

One of the James Webb Space Telescope’s four primary scientific instruments, known as the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph instrument (NIRISS), has concluded its postlaunch preparations and is now ready for science.

The last NIRISS mode to be checked off before the instrument was declared ready to begin scientific operations was the Single Object Slitless Spectroscopy (SOSS) capability. The heart of the SOSS mode is a specialized prism assembly that disperses the light of a cosmic source to create three distinctive spectra (rainbows), revealing the hues of more than 2,000 infrared colors collected simultaneously in a single observation. This mode will be specifically used to probe the atmospheres of transiting exoplanets, i.e., planets that happen to eclipse their star periodically, momentarily dimming the star’s brightness for a period of time. By comparing the spectra collected during and before or after a transit event with great precision, one can determine not only whether or not the exoplanet has an atmosphere, but also what atoms and molecules are in it.

“I’m so excited and thrilled to think that we’ve finally reached the end of this two-decade-long journey of Canada’s contribution to the mission. All four NIRISS modes are not only ready, but the instrument as a whole is performing significantly better than we predicted. I am pinching myself at the thought that we are just days away from the start of science operations, and in particular from NIRISS probing its first exoplanet atmospheres,” said René Doyon, principal investigator for NIRISS, as well as Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor, at the University of Montreal.

The Image Behind the Spectrum. This is a test detector image from the NIRISS instrument operated in its single-object slitless spectroscopy (SOSS) mode while pointing at a bright star. Each color seen in the image corresponds to a specific infrared wavelength between 0.6 and 2.8 microns. The black lines seen on the spectra are the telltale signature of hydrogen atoms present in the star. NIRISS is a contribution from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to the Webb project that provides unique observational capabilities that complement its other onboard instruments. Credit: NASA, CSA, and NIRISS team/Loic Albert, University of Montreal

With NIRISS postlaunch commissioning activities concluded, the Webb team will continue to focus on checking off the remaining five modes on its other instruments. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA, will release its first full-color images and spectroscopic data on July 12, 2022.


-Thaddeus Cesari, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

-Nathalie Ouellette, Webb outreach scientist, Université de Montréal