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Paris, June 18, 2007

JWST, the Hubble Space Telescope successor, is set to observe the first galaxies formed in the Universe

An agreement sealing European Space Agency (ESA) participation in NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) programme was signed on 18 June 2007. JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and will be launched in 2013. As part of this agreement, Europe will provide the launcher (Ariane rocket) and will help develop two of the four measuring devices that will be installed on JWST. The CEA - in partnership with CNES and with participation from different CNRS teams - is the driving force behind French contribution to one of these four devices: the MIRI instrument.

With a light collecting area almost ten times greater than HST and instruments sensitive to infrared radiation, JWST will be able to detect radiation emitted billions of years ago. This will make it possible to probe the very early universe and to observe the first “luminous" objects with which it was lit up around 13 billion years ago. We have little understanding of how the Universe evolved when it was less than a billion years old. JWST's exploration of this period will provide valuable information about the first sources of light (such as when they appeared and what they are made) and their role in matter reionization, upon which the formation of successive celestial bodies depended.

 

Since it can conduct observations in thermal infrared (wavelengths from 5 to 27 microns), the MIRI instrument will be critical in ensuring that the objects observed truly date from the very early universe. Among other tasks, MIRI will also be used to conduct “coronographic” observations of stars near our own planet. "This observation method is used to prevent the glare from a close star from dazzling the detector; we can then probe the star's environment and discover exoplanets, the rather faint objects around them and dust disks, etc." explains Pierre-Olivier Lagage (CEA/Dapnia),  Scientific Leader of French MIRI contribution.

 

MIRI is composed of two main sub-assemblies: an imager and a spectrometer. French contribution consists of producing and supplying the imager. The CEA has just delivered a prototype of this imager to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL, Great Britain); it will be used to check that the imager's performance is in line to comply with specifications. Engineers have worked particularly hard on a wheel carrying optic filters that will be subjected to strong vibrations during the launch. At the end of 2008, the final imager, destined to be loaded onto the satellite, will be delivered to the RAL, where it will be integrated with other MIRI sub-assemblies, and then tested. From 2010 onwards, the MIRI instrument itself, along with the other three JWST devices, will be integrated into the satellite by NASA.

 

JWST

© CEA

The validation prototype of the French part of the MIRI device being inspected before delivery.


Contact information:

Press :
CEA
Delphine Kaczmarek
+33 (0) 1 64 50 20 97
delphine.kaczmarek@cea.fr

CNRS
Martine Hasler
+33 (0) 1 44 96 46 35
martine.hasler@cnrs-dir.fr

CNES
Sandra Laly
+33 (0) 1 44 76 77 32
sandra.laly@cnes.fr


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