On Wednesday 9 May, the official transfer took place of the Mid InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) by ESA to NASA. The instrument is a camera and spectrometer for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is so sensitive that he can see a candle on a Jupiter moon. The NOVA Optical/ Infrared group at ASTRON was responsible for the concept, design, building and testing of the optical modules for the spectrometer. MIRI will be shipped to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where it will be integrated with the other three instruments aboard the JWST. MIRI is designed and built under the leadership of the United Kingdom in collaboration with several European partners, including the Dutch Research School for Astronomy (NOVA).
The MIRI European PI, Gillian Wright of STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre, is proud of this milestone: “It is fantastic that we were the first to deliver one of the four instruments of the JWST. We can now look forward to the scientific results of MIRI, once the JWST (successor to the Hubble Space Telescope) is launched. “
Published by the editorial team, 9 May 2012
MIRI operates in the infrared at a wavelength of 5 to 28 microns and can see through dust clouds, allowing small, faint objects to be studied in great detail. Observing at these wavelengths requires some technological feats, because it takes place in space under vacuum at -266.5 degrees Celsius, close to absolute zero. For this, MIRI needs a separate cooling system.
Last year, MIRI has been tested extensively at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in England, under ‘space’ conditions. Over three months, a large team from Europe (including Dutch astronomers) and the US took measurements for 24 hours a day in shifts. The analysis of the test data has shown that MIRI works very well and is ready for the scientific work in space.
The Dutch co-PI of MIRI, Ewine van Dishoeck, is excited about the possibilities MIRI provides. “With MIRI we can execute a wide range of exciting projects on topics in which the Netherlands excels: star formation in distant galaxies, the structure of proto stars, planet formation in disks around young stars, and the composition of atmospheres of exoplanets. Thanks to the Dutch investment, MIRI has a spectrometer that makes these studies possible. ”
Project leader Rieks Hunter adds: ‘thanks to the experience the enthusiastic NOVA-IR group at ASTRON in Dwingeloo had built in the development of the main infrared instruments for the largest terrestrial telescopes, we have been able to deliver this instrument within time and budget, in cooperation with TNO and the Dutch Institute for Space Research.’
In the past, the Netherlands participated in building the spectrometer of the Infrared Space Observatory and the VISIR instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. According to the Dutch deputy-PI Bernhard Brandl, participation in MIRI was a logical next step because full advantage could be taken of the technical expertise our country has built up in the past 25 years in the field of cryogenic instrumentation. ‘It has also ensured that the Netherlands plays a leading role in the development and construction of the METIS mid-infrared instrument for ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the largest optical / infrared telescope in the world.