On Tuesday, in a very sober press release, the US space agency (NASA) raised the issue of the James Webb Space Telescope. He admitted that he was the victim of a technical problem. One of the four observation modes of the MIRI instrument has been deactivated. This device captures mid-infrared light, wavelengths invisible to the naked eye.
It is this instrument that was used to take the photo of the group of galaxies “Stephan’s Quintet” presented in the first batch of photography of James Webb from the White House by President Joe Biden himself.
In its press release, NASA explains that it detected an “increased friction” in one of the wheels used to change wavelengths in MIRI. On September 6, at a special meeting, members of the James Webb review board decided to suspend missions using this device.
An instrument damaged in 17
However, the absence of this detection mode should not be a big problem for astronomers lucky enough to work with James Webb. NASA expected that the device could be damaged over time and the telescope has a total of 17 modes spread across four instruments.
However, this is not the first time that James Webb has fallen victim to boredom. In June NASA had already communicated about damage suffered by James Webb at the level of his mirror. According to the US space agency, the telescope was hit by a micrometeorite. The accident did not cause too many problems for James Webb and NASA assures that he was able to continue operating normally.
Located at the Lagrange point 2 (gravitational equilibrium zone between the Earth and the Sun), James Webb is 1.5 million kilometers from our planet. Unlike the older brother of him Hubble of him, it is impossible to send a team of astronauts to make repairs, so James Webb has no right to break.
James Webb: a 20-year, $10 billion project
As the most valuable object man has ever sent into space, the telescope is obviously under close scrutiny. Valued at $10 billion, the device took more than 20 years to leave NASA factories.
The US space agency now hopes to recoup that investment by using it for decades. At this point, the first results are also very good, James Webb offers much richer and more detailed images than Hubble or Spitzer, another infrared-focused space telescope.
Recently, a team of researchers, Directed by Olivier Berné from Toulouse he was able to use the device and observe the Orion Nebula. If the scientific details of the experiment are not yet known, the first images are impressive.