Behind the Webb - MIRI

This video from NASA takes viewers behind the scenes with the MIRI or the Mid-Infrared Instrument that will fly on-board NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. MIRI is a state-of-the-art infrared instrument that will allow scientists to study distant objects in greater detail than ever before.

YouTube | MIRI Uses Spectroscopy, Pics to Study the Cosmos

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The Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, on the James Webb Space Telescope, is unique in a number of ways. First of all, it looks at a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum than the other instruments do. It looks at mid infrared frequencies. Second of all, it takes both pictures and spectra.

To find out more about the MIRI we have with us the European principal investigator, Gillian Wright. Gillian, it looks at the mid infrared range of frequencies what is mid-infrared?

Mid-infrared means we look at longer wavelengths compared to what the other instruments do which is described as near-infrared. It's better at looking through dust. It's also more sensitive to different colors of objects. Lots of molecules that might indicate life on other planets those molecules make spectra in the mid infrared.

It takes pictures and spectra, why the two?

Yes, because to do our science we want to be able to take both pictures and spectra. So I suppose, in an ideal world, we'd have had to mid-infrared instruments on JWST, but there wasn't space, so we built it into just one instrument that does both things.

And I understand we have a real honest-to-goodness MIRI right here at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, right?

Yes, we're all really excited because we've just finished putting the flight model of the instrument together and we're about to start testing.

So, Gillian, this is the MIRI?

Yes, this is the MIRI. This is the flight instrument, so we need to be very careful. MIRI deliberately has a very modular design so that each module, for example, this box here, can be built and tested by itself, before we build it into the rest of the instrument.

Did you build these modules here?

No, we had different modules built in different parts of Europe it's that way we could use the skills of a lot of different Institute's all of which have very specialist knowledge about certain areas of how to do instruments and we could bring it all together to create the MIRI.

But the MIRI is both a spectrometer and imager?

Yes, that's right. So the spectrometer in this, when it's this way around the spectrometer, sits on the top but we can turn the instrument over so we can take a look at the imager. The light would come in here from the telescope, and it hits the mirror, which turns it and sends it to the middle of the instrument. Most of the light is then sent to the imager so that we can take pictures with the imager and a very small fraction of the light is sent to the spectrometer for us to do spectroscopy.

Gillian thanks so much for showing us your MIRI.

You're very welcome.

As you can see the MIRI is basically two instruments and one and it will be able to do its job because of the help of international partners.

Thanks for joining us for another edition of behind the Webb.

What Do You Think?

  1. What does MIRI stand for? Explain what it means.
  2. Give a brief summary of the purpose of the MIRI.
  3. Write a short essay about the MIRI that addresses the following questions:
    1. According to the video, what is the purpose of this instrument?
    2. What are the advantages of the MIRI over near-infrared instruments?
    3. What types of things will the MIRI be able to see?