NASA’s James Webb Telescope has been hit by a tiny rock fragment called a ‘micrometeoroid.’ However, it remains capable of carrying out its mission.
NASA‘s James Webb Space Telescope has been hit by a tiny rock fragment, producing a noticeable degradation in the observatory’s performance. The James Webb is primarily an infrared telescope that improves resolution and sensitivity over the decades-old Hubble Space Telescope. It was supposed to launch in 2007, but faced several delays before successfully launching in December 2021. However, the delays resulted in a huge budget increase. While it was originally expected to cost around $500 million, it ended up costing NASA a whopping $10 billion.
James Webb is the largest and most powerful science telescope in space. It’s expected to help researchers unearth everything from mysteries of the Big Bang to alien planet formation. It is also expected to help NASA study some of the earliest galaxies and cosmic bodies that have been difficult to observe with earlier telescopes. Following the launch, the James Webb telescope began orbiting its L2 path at the end of January 2022 before the start of optics alignment and instrument calibration. On March 16, NASA shared the first-ever James Webb image showcasing a faraway star in incredible detail.
In a press release, NASA said that one of the mirrors (segment C3) in the James Webb Space telescope was hit by a micrometeoroid in late May. While the strike is producing a “marginally detectable effect” in the data produced by the observatory, it has not degraded its overall performance. The statement also said that thorough analysis and investigations are still ongoing, meaning the full extent of the damage will only be known once the probe is over. Following the impact, engineers have been adjusting the position of the affected segment to reduce distortion and minimize the effect of the impact.
Not The First Micrometeroid Hit
NASA’s statement further revealed that the aforementioned meteoroid hit was one of four such impacts on the James Webb telescope between May 23 and May 25 this year. The other three strikes were from much smaller rock fragments and did not result in any noticeable damage to the observatory. According to NASA, micrometeoroid hits are inevitable on any spacecraft, and the James Webb telescope was build to withstand such impacts. In fact, such events are expected to keep happening throughout the telescope’s lifetime and it was actively tested for these impacts while still on the ground.
NASA also said that while individual micrometeoroid hits will not have much of a negative impact on the telescope, persistent hits will take a toll and degrade its performance over time. For those wondering, micrometeoroids are tiny rock fragments – often the size of dust particles – that fly at “extreme velocities” through space. All spacecrafts are bombarded with them and are built to withstand many such impacts over the course of their lifetime. As for the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA says that it continues to perform “well above expectations” and remains fully capable of carrying out its mission.