Webb Telescope: German Tech Contributes to Spectacular Images

July 2022

The stunning pictures of space made by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have caused jaws to drop across planet Earth. And they are themselves the result of a global effort led by NASA but also including the European and Canadian space agencies.

With its long tradition of optics and aerospace excellence, Germany played a major role in delivering the technology needed to peer farther than ever before into the universe. The Max Planck Institute of Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg was one of the leading partners in constructing the telescope’s mid-infrared instrument, or MIRI. MPIA engineers and colleagues from the private company Hensoldt contributed, among other components, a filter wheel for the MIRI camera and two grating wheels for the MIRI spectrograph.

MPIA also helped develop a filter and a grating wheel for the NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph) instrument covering a spectral range between 0.6 and five micrometers. Like the rest of the telescope, these parts must be capable of withstanding temperatures as low as -266 Celsius.

In contrast to its predecessor, the Hubble telescope, the JWST is positioned not in earth orbit, but at the so-called Lagrange point L2, 1.5 million kilometers away from our home planet.

“Lagrange point L2 makes it possible to position the Sun, the Earth, and the James Webb telescope as if they were strung on a string of pearls, thereby allowing the telescope to always look into the cold universe in the shadow of the protective shield,” MPIA Head of Infrared Space Astronomy Oliver Krause told the Max Planck Society website. “In the course of a year, the entire sky area will then also be accessible to the telescope. However, unlike Hubble, the observatory cannot be maintained at this great distance. Therefore, everything on board must function with maximum reliability because astronaut visits will not be possible.”

The MPIA has worked on the USD-10-billion JWST project since 2000.

Images of the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula © ESA JWST

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