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Durham University News


Durham University scientists play role in successor to Hubble

(9 May 2012)

Professor Martin Ward

Professor Martin Ward

Durham University astrophysicists are part of an international team driving a new instrument which will help provide a clearer view of our Universe.

The Mid InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) - a camera which is so sensitive it could see a candle on one of Jupiter's moons - will form part of the James Web Space Telescope (JWST) which is planned to replace the iconic Hubble Space Telescope in 2018.

Hubble is now more than 20 years old and the JWST will be six times larger that its predecessor.

After ten years of work by over 200 engineers, MIRI has today (WEDNESDAY MAY 9) been declared ready for delivery by the European Space Agency and NASA.

The MIRI Optical System, an instrument for the JWST, will eventually take up a position four times further away from the Earth than the Moon. It will now be shipped to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center where it will be integrated with three other instruments and the JWST.

An international Science Team drawn from scientists across Europe, including astrophysicists at Durham, is overseeing the science requirements and defining the early observations to be made using MIRI.

Science Team member Professor Martin Ward, Head of Physics at Durham University, said: "Together with the other instruments aboard the JWST, MIRI will probe through the dust that enshrouds parts of the Universe and give astronomers a clear view of how stars and galaxies form and evolve.

"It will build on the legacy of Hubble and extend our knowledge of regions previously hidden from us."

MIRI is being formally accepted by NASA today at a London ceremony attended by Universities and Science Minister David Willetts.

Mr Willetts said: "MIRI is the impressive result of more than ten years of work, led by Britain in partnership with Europe. With world-leading space research facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, a host of excellent universities and strategic direction from the UK Space Agency, the UK is clearly well placed to contribute to major global missions. I am extremely proud to be here for the handover of MIRI to NASA's James Webb team."

Gillian Wright, the European Principal Investigator for MIRI based at the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council's Astronomy Technology Centre, said: "The whole team is delighted that our hard work and dedication has resulted in a MIRI instrument that will meet all our scientific expectations.

"It is wonderful to be the first to achieve this major milestone for the JWST project.  We can now look forward to significant scientific discoveries when it is launched."

Eric Smith, JWST Deputy Program Director, from NASA HQ said:"The delivery of JWST's MIRI is a significant achievement and an important milestone on our collective journey in creating a space telescope that will dramatically alter our understanding of the Universe.

"On behalf of NASA and the JWST program I want to congratulate the MIRI team for their dedication to scientific excellence and the resulting superb instrument.  I'm excited about the upcoming integration and testing of MIRI with the other science instruments and look forward to continued collaboration with the team."

Mark McCaughrean, Head of the Research & Scientific Support Department of the European Space Agency said: "It is an immensely challenging project, but together with our US and Canadian colleagues, European scientists and engineers have successfully risen to the challenge and are now delivering key parts of JWST to NASA."

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