James Webb Space Telescope heads into final stretch of instrument commissioning

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,572   +174
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Forward-looking: The final NIRISS mode to be approved, the single-object slitless spectroscopy will be used to look at the atmospheres of exoplanets before, during, and after they eclipse their star. Comparison data will help scientists determine if a target has an atmosphere and what atoms and molecules make it up.

NASA at the end of April announced it had completed the final stage of alignment on the James Webb Space Telescope, and that the observatory was ready for instrument commissioning before the team starts releasing its first science data in July.

In its most recent update, NASA said the Webb team has approved 12 out of 17 science instrument modes including the Mid-Infrared Instrument, the NIRCam wide field slitless spectroscopy and the single object slitless spectroscopy.

The four-mode Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) was developed by Canada as its contribution to the project.

"All four NIRISS modes are not only ready, but the instrument as a whole is performing significantly better than we predicted," said René Doyon, principal investigator for NIRISS, as well as Webb's Fine Guidance Sensor, at the University of Montreal.

Anxious onlookers experienced a scare earlier this month when it was revealed that Webb had been struck by a larger-than-anticipated micrometeoroid in late May. Such impacts are common in space, but NASA hadn't prepared for a micrometeoroid this large during the testing phase. After assessing the damage, the team determined the telescope was still performing at a level that exceeds mission requirements.

NASA further noted some openings in its schedule as Webb enters the final stretch of commissioning activities. This has allowed the team to start capturing some of the first science data in preparation for a public reveal on July 12.

Those interested in following Webb's progress can do so over on NASA's website.

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Such long commissioning process I just hope it survives until it is finally ready. Meteor impacts have already caused scares...