Houston, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has a problem! Untimely death in offing?
The ultracold camera on the NASA James Webb Space Telescope has been hit by a glitch. This has been affecting its Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), one of the crucial components on JWST. What will happen now?
Houston, we have a problem! This iconic phrase has been used exhaustively to signal that things are really looking bad for the person or thing in question. It may as well be applied to the James Webb Space Station which has run into a massive problem some 1 million miles from Earth. After enchanting the world for the last three months with breathtaking, never-seen-before images, the NASA James Webb Space Telescope has faced an unexpected challenge. The space telescope is experiencing a technical glitch. This glitch affects the ultracold camera linked to the mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) of the telescope. MIRI is one of the two most important components of the telescope and plays an important role in the images it captures. With this sudden challenge popping up, scientists were forced to postpone some observations scheduled for this week. But the bigger shadow that looms is what will happen to the JWST now? Is there a way to fix the glitch or will scientists lose one of the major functionalities on it? Read on to find out.
NASA James Webb Space Telescope faces unexpected tech challenge
This particular glitch has been impacting the grating wheel of MIRI. This wheel is important for scientists to adjust the wavelength of light to see an object clearly. The wheel doesn't render the entire instrument useless however. It is used in one of the four observation modes of MIRI called medium-resolution spectroscopy (MRS) mode. Using this mode, the instrument captures light spectra.
According to a NASA statement, this glitch was first spotted by the scientists in late August. After an investigation, it has been decided to pause that mode for observation. “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,” NASA officials wrote in the statement.
It appears that NASA has not given up on the feature and are now in process to determine the best way to fix it and continue the mission. The statement further reassured, “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”.
This is not the first time the JWST has faced an unexpected challenge. In its early days of deployment, a meteoroid hit its mirror resulting in big damage. Back then, NASA stated that the impact was greater than they expected but it is not uncommon for a space telescope to endure such hits.
Do you know: “Houston, we have a problem” is a popular but slightly inaccurate quotation from the radio communications between the Apollo 13 astronauts Jack Swigert, Jim Lovell and the NASA Mission Control Center ("Houston") during the Apollo 13 spaceflight in 1970, as the astronauts communicated their discovery of the explosion that crippled their spacecraft to mission control.
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