Webb’s NIRISS instrument is ready to study space in more than 2,000 infrared colors

(ORDO NEWS) — One of the James Webb Space Telescope’s four main scientific instruments, known as the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) instrument, has completed post-launch preparations and is now ready for scientific work.

The last NIRISS mode that was tested before the instrument was declared ready for science operations was the Single Object Slitless Spectroscopy (SOSS) capability.

The heart of the SOSS mode is a specialized prism that scatters the light from a cosmic source, creating three characteristic spectra (rainbows), revealing the hues of more than 2,000 infrared colors collected simultaneously in a single observation.

This mode will be specifically used to study the atmospheres of transiting exoplanets, that is, planets that periodically outshine their star, temporarily reducing its brightness.

Comparing the spectra obtained during and before or after the transit with high accuracy, it is possible to determine not only the presence or absence of an atmosphere in an exoplanet, but also the atoms and molecules that make up its composition.

Not only are all four NIRISS modes ready, but the device as a whole performs much better than predicted. There are only a few days left before the start of scientific operations and, in particular, before NIRISS begins to probe the atmospheres of the first exoplanets.

After completion of the NIRISS commissioning work, Webb’s team will continue their activities to test the remaining five modes on other instruments. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will release its first full color images and spectroscopic data on July 12, 2022.


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