NASA’s James Webb Telescope is hit by a micrometer

Astronomers around the world have high hopes for NASA’s James Webb Telescope. It is supposed to give us insight into the first stars and galaxies that formed and the atmospheres of potentially habitable exoplanets. That’s why NASA and its partners designed it to be able to withstand tough situations, like being bombarded by micrometeroids flying at extremely high speeds. Between May 23 and 25, a larger-than-expected micrometeoroid hit one of the telescope’s main mirror segments. The event was large enough for NASA to see a “marginally detectable effect in the data”, but not large enough to affect the telescope’s performance.

In NASA’s announcement, she said James Webb’s team had performed an initial analysis and found that they were still operating at a level that “exceeds all mission requirements”. The space agency said its engineers relied on simulations and performed real-world impact tests on sample mirrors when building the telescope to ensure it was properly reinforced. For example, the telescope’s flight crews can perform maneuvers to divert its optics from known meteor showers. Its recent impact, however, was classified as an unavoidable fortuitous event, and the micrometeoroid was larger than engineers could have tested in the field.

The good news is that James Webb has the ability to adjust mirror positions to correct and minimize the results of impacts like this. Its engineers have already made the first of several adjustments to compensate for damage to the affected segment. The agency has also formed a team of engineers to research ways to mitigate the effects of hits of this magnitude in the future. Given that James Webb is supposed to replace Hubble and should provide us with invaluable data over the next 10 years – or 20, if all goes well – NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency will most likely their best. can to protect the space telescope.

Lee Feinberg, Webb Optical Telescope Elements Manager at NASA Goddard, said:

“With the Webb mirrors exposed to space, we expected that occasional micrometeoroid impacts would gracefully degrade the telescope’s performance over time. Since launch, we’ve had four smaller measurable micrometeoroid impacts that were as expected and this one more recently which is greater than our degradation predictions.We will use this flight data to update our performance analysis over time and also develop operational approaches to ensure we best maximize Webb’s imaging performance for many years to come.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Leave a Comment