Meteorite impact caused “significant, uncorrectable” damage to the James Webb Space Telescope | Science and technology news

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NASA has reported that a meteoroid impact on the James Webb Space Telescope caused “significant, unrecoverable” damage to one of the panels it uses to view space.

The orbiting observatory was launched last December and recently released a whole new set of observationsincluding what is said to be the “deepest” and most detailed picture of the cosmos to date.

Like any spacecraft, it has encountered micrometeoroids, and its sensors have detected six deformations in the telescope’s primary mirror plates that are attributable to impacts.

“Each micrometeoroid caused a degradation in the wavefront of the affected mirror segment, as measured during regular wavefront acquisition,” he said OUR.

Some of these deteriorations can be corrected by adjusting the math NASA applies to the data each panel collects, according to a mission paper released last week.

However, a strike that occurred between May 22 and 24 was caused by a larger micrometeoroid and resulted in a “significant uncorrectable change” in segment C3, according to the document.

Fortunately, this change doesn’t particularly affect how the telescope works as a whole – and NASA has said its performance continues to exceed expectations – but it does fundamentally reduce the accuracy of the data collected.

However, the impact has raised some concerns about the impact future impacts of these larger micrometeoroids could have.

“It is not yet clear whether the May 2022 hit in segment C3 was a rare event,” the document said.

There might be a possibility that it was “an unfortunate early impact of a high kinetic energy micrometeoroid that statistically occurs only once in several years,” the NASA team mused.

But potentially “the telescope may be more susceptible to damage from micrometeoroids than pre-launch modeling predicted.”

The white spot shows the damage to the plate

“The project team is conducting additional studies on the micrometeoroid population [and] how impacts affect beryllium levels,” she added.

Another possible method to mitigate the impacts could be to minimize the time the JWST spent “looking in the direction of the orbit that has statistically higher micrometeoroid rates and energies.”

A growing amount of orbital debris has forced the International Space Station controllers to do so on a regular basis Perform “evasive manoeuvres”. to avoid hitting it.

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Southern Ring Nebula (NIRCam image) James Webb Telescope
Southern Ring Nebula taken by the James Webb Telescope

NASA is currently tracking more than 27,000 pieces of space debris, although it says there is much more debris – too small to track but still large enough to threaten human spaceflight and robotic missions.

NASA said, “There are half a million pieces of debris the size of a marble or larger (up to 0.4 inches or 1 cm) and approximately 100 million pieces of debris about 0.04 inches (or 1 mm) and larger.”

“There’s more, smaller micron-sized (0.000039 inch diameter) debris,” he added, and all of them can pose a risk.

“Even tiny specks of paint can damage a spacecraft” when traveling at speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour, NASA said — fast enough to get from London to New York in 12 minutes.

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