UNITED STATES: The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), operated by NASA, has been hit by at least 19 tiny space pebbles since its Dec. 25, 2021 launch. One particularly large space rock damaged one of the telescope’s 18 gold-plated hexagonal mirrors.
NASA researchers have revealed the first photographs illuminating the extent of that damage in a comprehensive new status report published to the pre-print repository arXiv.org. The impact site is visible as a single bright white dent marring the surface of the golden mirror on the C3 mirror, which is located in the lower right corner of the image.
According to the analysis, the hit caused “uncorrectable” damage to a small section of that mirror and is believed to have happened between May 23 and May 25 this year. The functioning of the telescope doesn’t appear to have been hampered in the slightest by this dent. The JWST performs “nearly all across the board” better than expected.
The threat posed by the tiny rocks known as micrometeoroids to satellites in close-Earth orbit are all too familiar. The millions of smaller nearby space chunks are nearly impossible to track, but the U.S. Space Surveillance Network keeps track of more than 23,000 pieces of orbital debris larger than a softball.
NASA and other space organisations, on the other hand, are bracing for the inevitable consequences. According to the new research, any spacecraft will inevitably collide with micrometeoroids. Six micrometeoroids have caused detectable “deformities” on the JWST telescope’s mirrors since its launch, or about one every month.
Engineers deliberately struck mirror samples during the construction of the JWST to assess how such impacts might affect the telescope’s performance. However, the size of the heavier impactor that dented the C3 mirror caught everyone off guard.
Researchers are currently attempting to determine the potential effects of additional impacts like this on the JWST. This space rock appeared to be larger than the team had anticipated.
More than 200 scientists from NASA, the European Space Agency (which worked on the development and launch of the JWST with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency), and other scientific organisations from across the world contributed to the latest status report have not yet undergone peer review.
Despite the unanticipated damage to the C3 mirror, the researchers discovered that after a 6-month commissioning phase, the telescope is operating properly and has a promising future in scientific research.
According to the report, the JWST mission was designed to “allow fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars, and planetary systems.” “We can now say with certainty that it will.”
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