‘Micrometeorite’ hits NASA’s $10B ‘time-traveling’ telescope
A tiny piece of rock has just smashed into NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope.
Recently, one of James Webb’s 18 mirrors was hit by a micrometeorite – or a piece of meteorite so small it could pass through Earth’s atmosphere without burning up.
While this can be problematic as impacts may move Webb’s mirror segments out of place, NASA researchers say there is no need to worry.
Not only was the $10 billion space instrument designed to withstand the damages of space, but it also comes equipped with sensors to adjust its own mirrors.
Should that fail, Mission Control can also adjust Webb’s mirrors from Earth.
“We always knew that Webb would have to weather the space environment,” Paul Geithner, engineer and technical deputy project manager of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said.
This includes harsh ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from foreign sources in the galaxy, and the occasional strikes by micrometeoroids.
“We designed and built Webb with performance margin – optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical – to ensure it can perform its ambitious science mission even after many years in space,” Geithner added.
The micrometeoroid struck the telescope sometime between May 23 and May 25.
Researchers are saying that the impact may help them to better understand Earth-sun Lagrange Point 2 (L2), which is where Webb is currently in orbit.
It may also help scientists develop strategies for protecting the telescope in the future.
“Since launch, we have had four smaller measurable micrometeoroid strikes that were consistent with expectations and this one more recently that is larger than our degradation predictions assumed.” Lee Feinberg, Webb optical telescope element manager of NASA Goddard, said.
“We will use this flight data to update our analysis of performance over time and also develop operational approaches to assure we maximize the imaging performance of Webb to the best extent possible for many years to come.”
Webb has been floating at L2, about 930,00 miles from Earth in the direction of Mars, to scour the night sky for faint infrared light.
These lights, which could be visible from the first generation of stars and galaxies, will help researchers get a better understanding of the early days of our universe.
This story originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced here with permission.