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NASA scientists have noticed a technical problem with the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the James Webb Space Telescope. Since its launch, the Webb Telescope has offered scientists unprecedented views of the universe beyond our planet, the latest of which were the first images and spectra of Mars taken by the telescope. The space agency convened an anomaly review board to investigate the problem.
The MIRI instrument has four observation modes: imaging, low-resolution spectroscopy, medium-resolution spectroscopy, and coronagraphic imaging. “On August 24, the mechanism that supports Medium Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS) exhibited what appeared to be increased friction while being adjusted for scientific observation. This mechanism is a lattice wheel that allows scientists to select between short, medium, and long wavelengths when performing observations in MRS mode,” NASA said in a press release.
After conducting preliminary health checks and investigating the problem, NASA convened an Anomaly Review Board on September 6 to determine the best course of action to resolve the problem. In the meantime, the Webb team has suspended planning for observations with this particular observing mode while they analyze its behavior.
The telescope continues to be in good condition, with the other three MIRI modes operating normally and available for science observations. This is not the first incident that Webb has faced. In July of this year, NASA reported that the $10 billion space observatory was damaged by at least 19 small space rocks. One of the stones left visible damage on one of the space telescope’s 18 gold-plated mirrors.
But scientists are prepared for such contingencies, because the James Webb Space Telescope is designed to continue functioning even in the event of such problems. Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, has faced a number of technical problems since it began operating more than 30 years ago, but it is still operational.