Webb Telescope’s Giant Mirror Struck by Micrometeoroid

Webb Telescope's Giant Mirror Struck by Micrometeoroid thumbnail

NASA’s next generation space observatory has suffered its first visible micrometeoroid impact in less than six months. However, the agency isn’t too concerned.

The James Webb Space Telescope, also known as Webb or JWST, launched on Dec. 25, 2021. It has spent the intervening months trekking out to its deep-space post and preparing for science observations, a complicated process that has gone remarkably smoothly; recently, NASA said it expects to unveil the first science-quality images from the telescope on July 12.

Now the agency announced Wednesday, June 8, that the observatory had experienced its first impacts from tiny pieces space debris called micrometeoroids. Don’t panic: The observatory’s scientific legacy and its schedule will not be affected by the impact.

“With Webb’s mirrors exposed in space, we anticipated that occasional micrometeoroid impact would gracefully reduce telescope performance over time,” Lee Feinberg from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland stated in the statement. “Since launch we have had four smaller measurable microscopic strikes that were consistent and this one more recent that is larger than our degradation expectations assumed .”

The most serious of the impacts occurred between May 23 and May 25 and affected the C3 segment of the 18-piece gold-plated hexagonal primary mirror, according to the statement.

All spacecraft are designed to withstand micrometeoroid impact and are expected to experience them. To understand how such impacts might affect science, engineers at the observatory even tested mirror samples.

However, the impact of the recent event was greater than the ones that mission personnel could test on ground, according to the statement.

Despite the impact coming so early in the observatory’s tenure, NASA officials are confident that the $10 billion telescope will still perform adequately.

“We always knew that Webb would have to weather the space environment, which includes harsh ultraviolet light and charged particles from the sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and occasional strikes by micrometeoroids within our solar system,” Paul Geithner, technical deputy project manager at NASA Goddard, said in the statement. Webb was designed and built with a high performance margin, including optical, thermal, and mechanical, to ensure that it can fulfill its ambitious science mission, even after many years in space .”

Officials also noted that JWST launched with its optics even better than the agency had hoped for, as they were in better shape than the agency expected.

Officials wrote that some micrometeoroid impacts could be predicted. Officials wrote that the spacecraft will be flying through known meteor Showers , personnel can maneuver JWST’s optical systems to safety for these events. The statement stated that the impact of the meteor shower was not the cause and that it was “an unavoidable possibility event”. “

After an impact occurs, engineers can individually adjust the 18 primary mirror segments on the observatory to keep the mirror as a whole finely tuned.

As the JWST team continues to assess the impact, NASA is focusing on understanding the specific event and the environment the observatory will encounter throughout its mission. The telescope is orbiting what scientists call the Earth-sun Lagrange point 2, located nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth in the direction opposite the sun.

” We will use these flight data to update and improve our analysis of performance over the years, as well as to develop operational approaches to ensure Webb’s imaging performance is at its best for many years to to come,” Feinberg stated.

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