A Software Glitch Forced the Webb Space Telescope Into Safe Mode

An artist's conception of the Webb Space Telescope.

The Webb Space Telescope’s instruments have been in intermittent safe mode since Dec. 7, but science operations resumed earlier this week, NASA said in one press release On Wednesday.

Webb has been in safe mode several times over the past two weeks, in which all non-essential observatory systems are turned off, meaning no scientific operations are taking place, the press release said. Although NASA says the matter Is solved and “the observatory and the instruments are all in good condition”, the agency reported the breakdown only yesterday.

Webb is a $10 billion space observatory that maps the cosmos at infrared and near-infrared wavelengths. It’s a state-of-the-art telescope that has has caught our attention in the first six months of scientific observations and is instructive iconic structures like the pillars of creation in a new light.

That’s what the NASA publication says the “software error triggered in the attitude control system”, the apparatus that guides the orientation of the observatory. Those are most of the directions except that thThe telescope was rotated away from the micrometeoroid avoidance zone in the spring to protect the telescope’s mirrors. This maneuver came after a space rock attack which damaged one of the mirror plates.

TThe pauses added up to several days that the telescope was unable to make observations this month, NASA said. Now science is back in full swing and the Webb team is working to reschedule the observations affected by the glitch.

Yesterday Webb released the cosmic Christmas card equivalent: a wreath-like image of spiral galaxy NGC 7469. The galaxy is 220 million light years away and looks decidedly calm in Webb’s eyes. Sharp diffraction peaks propagate from the galactic center, where a supermassive black hole resides.

The spiral galaxy NGC 7469.

Aside from seeing familiar objects in new ways, Webb has imaged light from the earliest corners of the universe, light that was too weak for older ones observatories to see.

One of Webb’s most important scientific goals is inspection ancient sources of light – the earliest stars and galaxies – to understand how these objects formed and evolved in deep time.

In other words, it would be really nice if Webb might avoid safe mode for science’s sake. But better safe than sorry, and now that the telescope is up and running again, Let’s hope it stays that way.

More: Webb Telescope brings a once fuzzy galaxy into focus

https://gizmodo.com/webb-space-telescope-software-glitch-safe-mode-1849923189 A Software Glitch Forced the Webb Space Telescope Into Safe Mode

Zack Zwiezen

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