The Spanish team behind the sharp images of James Webb

On April 28, the space telescope James Webb completed one of the most important phases of its start-up: the alignment and adjustment of its mirrors. Indeed, a first test was carried out showing that they could perfectly direct the light to your instruments and, thus, take very sharp images. Now is the time to configure each of these instruments individually. A process that will also leave images as interesting as the one just published by the The Spanish MIRI Team (Mid-Infrared Instrument), one of the two instruments with strong Spanish participation. The snapshot compares an image of the Large Magellanic Cloudtaken with MIRI and its predecessor, the satellite spit.

Both are instruments that work in the infrared range. However, MIRI has a sensitivity between 10 and 100 times higher and an angular resolution 6 to 8 times higher. Just look at the sharpness with which this instrument by James Webb captures the stars which, with Spitzer, were perceived almost as blurs.

Thanks to this, it will be a fundamental piece in the work of the most powerful space telescope of all time. He has multitude of scheduled tasks, which will help us to know in depth some of these vestiges of the universe that have remained hidden from our eyes. We will have to wait a few more months to see it fully in action. But what else do we know of what their tasks will be?

MIRI, a key “piece” by James Webb

As its name suggests, MIRI is an instrument that operates in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. It brings together in a single instrument the characteristics of an integral field spectrograph, an imaging camera and a coronagraph. In other words, it can collect spectra, take images, and block light from brightly lit objects in order to observe much fainter objects.

This, as the principal researcher of the Spanish MIRI team, Luis Colina, explains in a statement, makes it “a fundamental piece in the exploration of the universefrom exoplanets and protoplanetary disks, through star-forming regions, to black holes in nearby galaxies, and the formation and evolution of galaxies from the earliest times of the universe and throughout its history “.

MIRI combines in a single instrument the functionalities of an integral field spectrograph, an imaging camera and a coronagraph

Indeed, the team, belonging to the CSIC Astrobiology Center (CAB), has experts in each of the areas to which MIRI will devote itself. In the group of exoplanets is david barradwho reports that this James Webb instrument will be able to obtain direct images of massive and relatively young planets. “In addition, spectra will be obtained from several brown dwarfs, objects that look like stars but have properties close to planets, to determine the properties of their atmospheres and improve theoretical models applied to planets. exoplanets”.

In the group of cosmological cartographers we find Paul Perez Gonzalez. It provides that the MIRI “will provide us with information onolder, smaller and more evolved stars present in distant galaxies. It’s essential, as he said hypertextual louis hill. “By trying to detect older, more evolved stars in galaxies very far away, sometimes close to the origin of the Universe, we hope to establish when the first stars formed and what was their influence on later evolution. of the universe.”

On the other hand, MIRI will give us very useful information about nearby galaxiesyes Works in this area Almudena Alonso Herrera. She argues that “MIRI will allow us to study the matter that obscures active nuclei, the kinematics of superwinds, and the central regions of these galaxies where new stars are forming.” With active nuclei, it refers to galactic centers with supermassive black holes in which matter is actively added.

Therefore, it is also possible to study black holes. it’s part of the job Javier Alvarez and Alvaro Labianowho will attempt to “understand the origin and formation of the massive black holes that appear in the early days of the Universe”.

Still have to wait a bit

All this and much more will be part of the work of this instrument by James Webb. However, we still have some time to see the results of their work. full performance.

“Like the rest of James Webb’s instruments, MIRI is being in-orbit verification and characterization“, tells Colina to this media. “Right now there are staff from the Center for Astrobiology in the United States assisting with these tasks.” It’s a phase that will last around two months, so it won’t start running at full capacity until at least July.

If all goes well, the instruments will be ready in July

But what will this work be? Just read some of the latest relevant astrophysical news to see that many include James Webb in their future projects. MIRI and the rest of the instruments will help confirm some data taken by Hubble or other less sophisticated devices. But, logically, you must have some steps to follow. “There is what is called long term planning, which covers the entire first year of operation of the James Webb and covers projects in all areas of astrophysics,” explains Colina. “These studies will be carried out by the teams that developed the instruments, but also by other scientific teams around the world who have obtained observation time”.

In short, the James Webb is the latest rock star telescope and no one wants to miss the chance to use it. More or less as it happened in his time with the Hubble. This includes MIRI, of course, but also the rest of its instruments.

For now, while everyone is finalizing their installation, MIRI has already shown what it is capable of. It is true that the comparisons are odious, but the abyssal differences with the spit show us how far you can go with your observations. And it is that not only the stars can be seen with great sharpness. A diffuse emission is also observed due to the emission of molecules which play a fundamental role in the chemistry of the interstellar medium. “MIRI will give a new perspective on the birth of stars and protoplanetary systems.” And that we are only talking about an instrument. One of the two with a large Spanish participation (the other is NIRSpec). Considering this, the possibilities of James Webb’s entire set seem almost inexhaustible.