Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fiat lux! James Webb Space Telescope MIRI

The BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos gives a compact interim report on the current status of the James Webb Space Telescope on the occasion of the signing of the MIRI agreement with NASA. 

The task of the highly sensitive Mid-Infrared Instrument MIRI is to look for the first light of creation - as the Bible says

And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light
Genesis 1:3 KJ21

Faint fossile light from the beginning

The earliest fossil light in the cosmos dates back over 13 billion human years. It is faint and can best be detected on infra-red wavelengths that penetrate also through the big dust and gas clouds that are hiding visible light from such distant objects in time and space.

Among other things Jonathan Amos tells about MIRI

Miri is a complex design, and will operate at minus 266C. This frigid state is required for the instrument's detectors to sample the faintest of infrared sources. Everything must be done to ensure the telescope's own heat energy does not swamp the very signal it is pursuing.

The hardware for Miri has been developed by institutes and companies from across Europe and America.

The job of pulling every item together and assembling the finished system has had its scientific and engineering lead in the UK.

Miri has just gone through a rigorous mechanical and thermal test campaign at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire.

The next step is for Miri to be put in a special environment-controlled shipping box, so it can travel to the US space agency's Goddard centre. The Maryland facility is where the final integration of James Webb will take place.

If all goes well the James Webb Space Telescope will be launched to its position 1.5 million kilometers from Earth in an ESA Arianne rocket in 2018.

If all goes well - life does not come with guarantees!

We wish God's blessing to the project and to all participating in this major scientific enterprise with so many hurdles on its way and with so much promise!

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