New Video Goes "Behind the Webb" To See 100 Points of Light

Press Release From: Goddard Space Flight Center
Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The newest video in the "Behind the Webb" series, called "100 Points of Light" takes viewers behind the scenes to understand what the Near Infrared Spectrograph or NIRSpec will do when it flies aboard the James Webb Space Telescope.

The video was produced at the Space Telescope Science Institute or STScI in Baltimore, Md. and takes viewers behind the scenes with engineers who are testing or creating the Webb telescope's components. The video was so named, because the NIRSpec can look at approximately 100 celestial objects at the same time.

In the 3 minute and 39 second video, STScI host Mary Estacion takes the viewer to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Webb telescope's NIRSpec instrument was built at the EADS ASTRIUM facility in Munich, German and arrived by truck at NASA Goddard on Sept. 20, 2013.

Mary interviewed Dr. Pierre Ferruit, James Webb Space Telescope project scientist for the European Space Agency during his visit to NASA Goddard who explained what a spectrograph does. The NIRSpec was specially developed and constructed for the Webb telescope. "It can take the light of one of these objects and divide it in its colors (into a spectrum)," he said. "This piece of information is what we call a spectrum and this is why NIRSPEC is called a spectrograph."

These spectra provide scientists with information about objects that can include chemical composition, temperature, mass, and the object's movement and distance.

But NIRSpec differs from existing space-based spectrographs because it is a multi-object spectrograph and it is designed to observe around 100 objects simultaneously.  To make it possible, NASA Goddard scientists and engineers had to invent a new technology called a microshutter system to control how light enters the NIRSpec. The microshutter device is an array of thousands of microscopic windows that can be individually opened and closed from one observation to the next so that only the light from each particular object of interest is allowed to make its way through NIRSpec to be turned into spectra. The NIRSpec will be the first spectrograph in space that has this remarkable multi-object capability.

Mary also met with Ralf Maurer, Webb telescope NIRSpec Project Manager at EADS/Astrium, in Ottobrunn, Germany, who explained how the NIRSpec was being assembled there. In the video, viewers are given a detailed look at the actual NIRSpec instrument that will fly aboard the Webb telescope.

The Near-Infrared Spectrograph, or NIRSpec, was provided by the European Space Agency, with components provided by NASA Goddard. Goddard built NIRSpec's detector and microshutter systems. EADS/Astrium is the European Space Agency’s or ESA prime contractor for the overall NIRSpec instrument. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.    

The "Behind the Webb" video series is available in HQ, large and small Quicktime formats, HD, Large and Small WMV formats, and HD, Large and Small Xvid formats.

To see the Behind the Webb's "100 Points of Light" video, visit:

For more information about the Webb's NIRSpec, visit:

For the video of the NIRSpec arrival at NASA Goddard, visit:


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