The James Webb Space Telescope was struck by a micrometeorite in late May that was larger than what tests and modeling on Earth predicted. Thaddeus Cesari from NASA has now made this public. However, he assures that the instrument continues to function better than is necessary for the planned tasks – but the impact has “slightly demonstrable effects in the data”.
The damaged segment of the huge main mirror, which consists of 18 such parts, was slightly realigned to minimize the consequences. Further adjustments are planned to improve the correction.
Impacts of micrometeorites cannot be prevented in space, before the youngest there were four smaller ones. The larger one is now rated as an “inevitable random event”.
Object larger than simulated
It was always known that the highly sensitive James Webb space telescope had to be able to survive the adverse conditions in space, adds Paul Geithner from NASA. These included bright ultraviolet light, charged solar particles, cosmic rays and, of course, isolated impacts from tiny micrometeorites from the solar system.
The instrument was built in such a way that it can still work for years and complete its ambitious scientific mission. After all, it was to be expected that the space telescope would be hit by a comparatively large number of micrometeorites simply because of its size. With simulations and real tests, attempts were made to find out how the highly sensitive technology could be protected. The object now hit was larger than modeled.
Prepare for meteor shower
Because the James Webb Space Telescope can determine and correct the position of the mirror segments with immense accuracy, distortions caused by the tiniest damage can be partially compensated for, NASA writes. Such a correction has already been made, and a team has now been put together to determine how the consequences of such collisions can be reduced in the future.
It had previously been prepared that the device could turn away before crossing known meteor showers. The current impact is not related to any such; it was just bad luck. The current schedule for the instrument has not changed, with the first scientific recordings still scheduled to be released on July 12th.
The segments of the primary mirror, C3 was hit
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched on December 25, 2021. After self-expanding, it had arrived at Lagrange point L2 a month later. Since then, it has been looking into space with the huge primary mirror turned away from the sun, earth and moon, so that the thermal radiation of the celestial bodies does not disturb the infrared telescope. A huge sunshade blocks this.
Its operating temperature is 40 Kelvin (-233 degrees Celsius), one instrument has even been cooled down to 6.4 Kelvin or -267 degrees Celsius. Because everything went almost perfectly, especially at the start, so much fuel was saved that it is assumed that the space telescope will be operational for 20 years.
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