One of the cameras of the James Webb Telescope has a mechanical problem

NASA has temporarily halted use of one of the modes on the JWST’s JWST mid-infrared instrument due to what it describes as “increased friction” that occurs during the setup phase before the new observations.

The problem was first noticed on August 24 and affects the MIRI camera, which has four monitoring modes. The mechanism that underpins one of these modes, called Medium Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS), tested what NASA describes as “increased friction” while preparing for a scientific observation.

“This mechanism is a grooved wheel that allows scientists to choose between short, medium, and long wavelengths when making observations using MRS mode,” NASA explains. “Following initial health examinations and investigations into this issue, the Anomaly Review Board met on September 6 to assess the best course forward.”

James Webb Space Telescope Mirror in Full Bloom | Image Credit: NASA / Desiree Stover

MIRI . camera It is one of the four main monitoring tools on JWST; The other, the most famous, is the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam). MIRI is probably best known for the fact that it’s a super-cooled camera and needs a temperature of minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit to function properly, which it did with a set of sun shields – the size of a tennis court – and Electric cooler.

MIRI has been used to capture some of the most impressive photos JWST has taken to date, including Southern Ring NebulaThe cart wheel galaxyAnd the stefan quintet. It is often used with NIRCam to produce a final multispectral image.

James Webb Space Telescope image of Stefan’s Penta. NASA/STScI, CC BY-SA

The Web team has paused the use of this monitoring mode while they continue to analyze its behavior. The space agency says the team is currently developing strategies to resume the use of MRS for monitoring as soon as possible, but has not provided a specific timeline.

Outside of this particular mode, NASA says the JWST is in good health and that the other three MIRI monitoring modes — imaging, low-resolution spectroscopy, and chorograph — are operating normally and remain available for scientific observations.

Unlike in the case of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA cannot fly a team into space to repair the JWST. Hubble is in orbit around the Earth, which made it possible to send a shuttle to it, but JWST is much farther – about a million miles away. It’s so far away that it doesn’t actually orbit the Earth, but instead orbits the Sun. As such, physical repairs are not an option. The Webb team will have to solve this particular issue remotely.

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Engineers perform a “reception check” for the James Webb Medium Infrared Instrument of the Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center after its flight from the United Kingdom. | Credits: NASA/Kris Jenn

This is the second problem JWST has faced since its launch, and the other one was Slight impact by a meteorite That did damage one of the mirror core clips, but it wasn’t a cause for concern.