NASA reports that the James Webb Space Telescope collided with a rocky orbit around the Sun and its main mirror was damaged. In a report carried by Sky News on Wednesday, the agency said the damage would not have a significant impact on the telescope’s operation, but work had already begun on ways to reduce the risk of such collisions in the future.
Meteorites are small pieces of rock that orbit the Sun at tremendous speeds, often no more than a few millimeters in diameter. Any object transported to outer space collides with it. The James Webb Space Telescope, a pioneering observatory set up by scientists from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), is no exception.
As reported in the latest report by three space agencies, six main mirror distortions due to such collisions have already been found on a telescope launched six months ago. NASA admitted that “every micro-meteorite degrades the part of the mirror it hits”, but most often it does not cause serious consequences. This minor damage can be “fixed” by including it in the calculations for analyzing the data sent from the telescope.
However, as reported in the report, between May 23 and 24, the James Webb Space Telescope also collided with a larger micrometeorite. This resulted in a “significant irreparable change” to the C3 segment of his main mirror. NASA guarantees that this damage will not have a significant impact on the operation of the entire telescope, as its capabilities currently exceed even expectations. However, it significantly reduces the accuracy of the data collected by the infected element.
Images published in the report show the view of the telescope’s main mirror before and after the May collision. The damaged area is clearly visible on it.
There are now growing concerns among the space agencies involved in the project about the impact of more larger meteorites in operating the telescope in the future. “It is not yet clear whether the impact of May 2022 on the C3 sector will be a rare event,” the report said. She stressed that it could be “an unfortunate early collision with a high kinetic micrometeorite that can occur statistically every few years.”
At the same time, astronomers are taking into account that the telescope may be more susceptible to damage than expected before its activation. Therefore, work has already begun on the exact number of scattered meteorites and ways to reduce the risks of a telescope collision with them.
The James Webb Telescope was launched into space in late 2021, and astronomers have high hopes for it. They hope that it will be possible thanks to him, among other things, examining the atmospheres of planets outside the solar system for signs of life and discovering the first stars and galaxies that formed about 200 million years after the Big Bang. Recently, NASA released images it took, which are said to be the most detailed images of the universe ever recorded..
NASA, ESA, CSA, news.sky.com, tvn24.pl
Main image source: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI
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