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Microshutters are a new piece of technology being used on the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) instrument on Webb.  NIRSpec is an instrument that will allow scientists to capture the spectra of more than 100 objects at once.  Because the objects NIRSpec will be looking at are so far away and so faint, the instrument needs a way to block out the light of nearer bright objects.

The microshutters were developed to help solve this problem.   Micro shutters are tiny cells that measure 100 by 200 microns, or about the width of three to six human hairs. At right are two closeup views of the microshutters themselves.

closeup of microshutters Microshutters

array of microshutters

The microshutters are arranged in a waffle-like grid that contains over 62,000 shutters. At left is an array of microshutters, about the size of a postage stamp. The instrument will contain four of these waffle-looking grids all put together.

The microshutter cells have lids that open and close when a magnetic field is applied.  Each cell can be controlled individually, allowing it to be opened or closed to view or block a portion of the sky.  It is this adjustability that allows the instrument to do spectroscopy on so many objects simultaneously!

"To build a telescope that can peer farther than Hubble can, we needed brand new technology," said Murzy Jhabvala, chief engineer of Goddard's Instrument Technology and Systems Division. "We've worked on this design for over six years, opening and closing the tiny shutters tens of thousands of times in order to perfect the technology."

Harvey Moseley, the Microshutter Principal Investigator, adds, "The microshutters are a remarkable engineering feat that will have applications both in space and on the ground, even outside of astronomy in biotechnology, medicine and communications."

The microshutters are being provided by NASA/GFSC.

Image Gallery View our microshutters image gallery.

Read a news release about the microshutters (6/29/10):