By: April Carson
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been struck by at least 19 tiny space rocks, including one large one that caused pronounced damage to one of the telescope's 18 gold-plated mirrors, since its launch on Dec. 25, 2021.
In a new, 30-page status report published to pre-print repository arXiv.org, NASA researchers have supplied the first pictures showing the full extent of the damage. On the C3 mirror in the lower right corner of the photo, a single bright white dent mars the golden surface of the otherwise perfectly polished reflector.
"The impact crater is about 1.5 centimeters (0.6 inches) in diameter and only about 4 microns (0.000157 inches) deep," the report's authors wrote. "It is not yet known if this impact will have any effect on the performance of JWST."
The C3 mirror is one of 18 hexagonal segments that make up JWST's primary mirror, which is 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) wide when fully deployed. When the telescope launches, those mirrors will work together to collect light from distant galaxies and other astronomical objects, and then focus that light onto JWST's four science instruments.
The report notes that the impact — which occurred between May 23 and 25 this year, according to sources – caused "uncorrectable" damage to a tiny portion of the mirror. However, this little dent did not appear to have any detrimental effect on the telescope's operation. In fact, near-universal success of the JWST is exceeding expectations "almost all across the board."
This is not the first time that a spacecraft has been hit by a meteor. In 2013, Russia's Phobos-Grunt Mars mission failed after being pelted by space rocks. And in 2014, NASA's Maven orbiter had to dodge a particularly large chunk of debris orbiting Mars.
Micrometeoroids, which are tiny pebbles, are a notorious hazard for spacecraft in low Earth orbit. The United States Space Surveillance Network keeps track of more than 23,000 objects greater than the size of a softball that fly through space; nevertheless, millions of little space debris fragments measuring less than one inch are nearly impossible to track.
Instead, NASA and other space agencies prepare for unavoidable consequences. For instance, the International Space Station is equipped with a debris shield that protects astronauts from tiny space particles.
Webb's mirrors are also protected by a coating of silicon carbide, which is incredibly strong and can withstand high temperatures.
The new report, which was released on March 20th, notes that "inevitably, any spacecraft will come into contact with micrometeoroids." So far, six tiny meteorites have caused apparent "deformities" on the JWST's mirrors, with around one significant accident per month since it began operations.
That is in line with the plan. Engineers intentionally tossed mirror samples containing micrometerorites at the JWST to see how such impacts would affect its performance as it was being created.
Even though the Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror was hit by a meteorite, it doesn't mean that the entire telescope is ruined. The JWST is designed to be incredibly resilient, and this is just one more example of its strength. NASA scientists are currently working on a plan to fix the damaged mirror, and we remain confident that the Webb Space Telescope will be able to fulfill its mission of studying the universe like never before.
The sudden force of the much smaller impactor dented the C3 mirror, which was unexpected. This space rock appeared to be larger than the team had anticipated, and researchers are now attempting to assess the potential damage that further blows like this could have on JWST.
More than 200 scientists from NASA, the European Space Agency (a collaborator in the JWST's construction and launch, along with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency), and other science organizations across the world collaborated to create this updated status report. Despite the unexpected consequence of damage to C3 mirror, despite experiencing unforeseen difficulties during commissioning, and despite discovering that the sunshield was deployed early during assembly, the JWST has made significant progress and continues to return exciting results.
As the most powerful space telescope ever built, the James Webb Space Telescope is designed to observe the most distant objects in the universe, providing researchers with unprecedented insights into the history and evolution of galaxies, stars, and planets.
The team is currently assessing the damage to C3 mirror and working on a plan to mitigate any potential impacts on JWST's mission. The report notes that "the safety of the observatory remains paramount," and scientists will continue to monitor the situation closely.
The James Webb Space Telescope was intended to "enable fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars, and planetary systems," according to the document. The telescope was designed to be the premier observatory of its kind, and its launch was postponed several times due to cost overruns and technical issues.
The new report states that the C3 mirror was struck by a "micrometeoroid or piece of space debris" on May 12th, 2020. The impact caused a small dent in the mirror, and scientists are concerned that it could affect the telescope's performance.
The findings were originally published on Live Science.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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