James Webb is currently experiencing problems with its MIRI instrument. The problem is due to increased friction in one of MIRI’s mechanisms in the Medium-Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS) mode. The observatory is otherwise healthy, but the team decided to stop observations using MRS mode until they find a solution.
A quick TLDR version of the most important space and astronomy news is here. Enjoy this week’s Space Bites!
SLS Passes Important Tanking Test
Artemis I rocket has passed a crucial test before its next launch attempt. Hopefully, it will happen on September 27th. Unless the weather interferes (which it might). The tanking test went well. The hydrogen leaks, which were the cause of the latest scrub, were dealt with. Some hydrogen still was leaking, but it was within spec. So, the team claimed the fueling test was a success.
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If the weather will cause a scrub on September 27th, there is still a reserve date on October 2nd. But if the launch won’t happen, SLS will most likely be rolled back to the VAB. This will mean that there will be no launch until late October or possibly even November.
More about the SLS fueling test.
SuperHeavy Booster 7 Hot Fire Test with 7 Engines
SpaceX successfully conducted a hot fire test of its SuperHeavy rocket. This time they managed to light up 7 of the 33 Raptor V2 engines at the same time. Now Booster 7 will be rolled back to the assembly building for further reinforcements and preparations for the orbital flight test. Booster 8 will take its place for now and conduct its tests.
James Webb Has Problems with MIRI
After a perfect deployment and months of smooth operations, the James Webb Space Telescope has a glitch. The problem is with the MIRI instrument’s Medium-Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS) mode. Controllers noticed excess friction occurring when the MRS was shifting modes, so they decided to take it offline until they could diagnose the problem. This only impacts this one mode of this instrument, but still, it’ll be a setback for Webb’s observations until they can get it operational again.
JWST Looks at Neptune And Its Rings
Webb continues to pick off targets, this time setting its sights on the Planet Mars. We’re very familiar with the surface of Mars in visible light, but it doesn’t get the infrared treatment too often. The pictures show differences in the brightness of various surface features of Mars in different wavelengths. Infrared reveals the reflected heat from the Sun, with other minerals releasing their heat at different rates visible to Webb. This was a tricky observation to make because Mars is so bright. Webb had to take a series of short exposures astronomers stitched together to create these images.
More about Webb’s Neptune images.
Webb Also Looks at Mars
Another first! This time you’re looking at the first ever picture of Neptune taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. Because it’s an infrared observatory, Webb can reveal Neptune’s faint, dusty rings and many moons. The rings were first observed by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, which flew past Neptune in 1989, but they’ve been difficult to observe since then. This is the first time they’ve ever been observed in infrared. The picture also has seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons, including the largest moon, Triton.
More about JWST looking at Mars.
SUSIE. Europe’s Upcoming Crewed Capsule
The European Space Agency has revealed new images of its reusable spacecraft for cargo and crewed missions to Low Earth Orbit. It’s called the Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration (or SUSIE) and it looks like a shortened version of SpaceX Starship. Is it a mini-Starship? Not exactly. It still flies on a disposable Ariane 6 booster, but it does perform a bellyflop maneuver and propulsive landing, allowing it to be reused for multiple flights. It’s more a capsule, like SpaceX Crew Dragon, but it doesn’t discard its trunk.
More about Europe’s not-a-starship.
A Quasar About to Be Born
Quasars are one of the most intense objects in the Universe. We now know that they are supermassive black holes sitting in centres of galaxies. When those black holes are actively feeding, they emit very powerful jets. If the jet is roughly pointed at us, we see it as a quasar. Now astronomers have found a very interesting galaxy that is just about to become a quasar. Now we wait.
A Sun-like Star Orbiting a Black Hole
Black holes are practically invisible because they have so much gravity they even absorb their light, But they are still detectable by their gravity. Astronomers looked at the Gaia data for over 160,000 multiple star systems. They were primarily multiple stars, with a few neutron stars or white dwarfs. But one of these systems contains a sunlike star orbiting a black hole with about ten times the mass of the Sun. It’s estimated about 100 million more black holes are hiding in the Milky Way.
More about the black hole star system.
Detecting Exoplanets with Lagrange Points
We have a few ways to find planets, but they require that the planet and star line up perfectly from our perspective. But astronomers have developed a new technique that’s got me pretty excited. They were observing a distant star system when they noticed giant blobs of material separated by about 120 degrees in orbit. It perfectly matches the location of the Trojan Belts around an exoplanet. The planet itself wasn’t detectable, but from the belts, astronomers could calculate that it was a super-earth or mini-Neptune orbiting the star.
More about a new method for finding exoplanets.
Get ready for the DART Impact
On September 26th, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test will be crashing into the moon of Asteroid Didymous. If all goes well, the spacecraft will strike the asteroid with so much force that it changes its orbit a tiny bit, enough that astronomers can calculate the change in its orbital trajectory. They’ll use this experiment to learn more about what it might take to protect Earth if a dangerous asteroid is discovered that could strike the Earth.
Ground and space-based observatories will be watching the impact, and DART has released a tiny Cubesat that’ll observe the event and send the data home to Earth. Of course, NASA will broadcast the event live, so make sure you tune in and watch the drama unfold as we see the spacecraft’s final sequence of images leading up to the impact.
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