Space pebble that hit the Webb telescope caused significant damage, scientists say

Space pebble that hit the Webb telescope caused significant damage, scientists say
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An artist's illustration of the Webb Telescope in space.

A micrometeoroid that struck the Webb Space Telescope in late May caused according to a. permanent damage to the spaceship Report of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The report was released last week by NASA and the European and Canadian space agencies. It described the scientific performance of the telescope up to July 12, 2022, the day of The first images of the telescope have been publicly released and included an exciting first look of the planet Jupiter as seen by Webb.

According to the analysis, “the impact exceeded expectations for damage for a single pre-launch micrometeoroid.” The Webb team is now investigating how to predict and mitigate future impacts.

Micrometeoroids are pieces of rock that fly through space. As they orbit the earth, these rocks can reach speeds of up to 22,000 miles per hour and are a regular hazard to astronauts, satellites, and spacecraft.

at the beginning of June, a NASA publication indicated that a micrometeoroid struck one of the Webb telescope’s hexagonal mirrors between May 23 and 25; The new report estimates that the impact actually occurred between May 22 and May 24.

“We have always known that Webb must survive the space environment, which includes hard ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and occasional impacts from micrometeoroids in our solar system,” said Paul Geithner. a technical assistant project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in a June publication.

The mirrors of the Webb telescope were meticulously aligned to generate high-resolution images of very faint light sources in the distant Universe. The latest report compared ground measurements of the optical quality of the mirror segments to the actual quality of the telescope; They found a significant error in the C3 segment.

Because the C3 segment is just one of 18 hexagonal mirrors that make up the telescope’s primary mirror, micrometeorite damage is relatively small across the telescope plane, the report said.

Despite the damage, the team’s initial assessment indicates that Webb “should meet its optical performance requirements for years to come.” Thanks to the telescope’s precise launch, it is expected to operate for 20 years, spending its entire lifetime at L2, a point in space about a million miles from Earth.

The cosmic cliffs of the Carina Nebula are visible in brownish orange below and deep blue in space above.

The big unknown, the team explained, is the rate of mirror degradation by micrometeoroids; in other words, how many more damaging space particles than expected will hit the $10 billion observatory. At the time of the June statement on the May impact event, the team detected four micrometeorite impacts that matched their expectations for such events, but the larger event is a cause for concern. If Webb is more vulnerable to micrometeorite impacts than scientists anticipate, his mirrors will deplete sooner than expected.

It is possible that the team will Turn Webb’s optics away from micrometeorite impacts to protect its mirrors down the line, but for this to happen impacts must be anticipated. Webb was heavily delayed here on Earth, but for an observatory that got up and running without a hitch, it was only a matter of time before space threw a curveball at Webb scientists.

More: Peer into the deepest view of our universe yet: Webb’s first full-color image is here

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