James Webb telescope's coldest instrument reaches operating temperature

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will see the first galaxies to form after the Big Bang, but to do that, its instruments first need to get cold—really cold. On April 7, Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI)—a joint development by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency)—reached its final operating temperature below 7 kelvins (minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 266 degrees Celsius).

Along with Webb's three other instruments, MIRI initially cooled off in the shade of Webb's tennis-court-size sunshield, dropping to about 90 kelvins (minus 298 F, or minus 183 C). But dropping to less than 7 kelvins required an electrically powered cryocooler. Last week, the team passed a particularly challenging milestone called the "pinch point," when the instrument goes from 15 kelvins (minus 433 F, or minus 258 C) to 6.4 kelvins (minus 448 F, or minus 267 C).

"The MIRI cooler team has poured a lot of hard work into developing the procedure for the pinch point," said Analyn Schneider, project manager for MIRI at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "The team was both excited and nervous going into the critical activity. In the end it was a textbook execution of the procedure, and the cooler performance is even better than expected."