Meteorite impact leaves ″uncorrectable″ damage to James Webb telescope mirror | Science and Ecology | D.W.

Since its launch, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been hit by at least 19 small space rocks. But one small rock in particular, a larger-than-expected micrometeorite, has had a big effect on NASA’s newly operated Deep Space Telescope.

Now, the space agency has published images of the mirrors of its telescope, in addition to the first results of its analysis. Previously, in June, NASA had revealed the impact of the micrometeorite.

Although the size of the space particle was larger than the team had predicted, the damage is fortunately isolated to just one of the observatory’s 18 mirrors—mirror C3—as seen in images included in an extensive new status report posted to prepress database arXiv.org.

Great performance of the James Webb telescope

Thus, the impact, which was caused by a micrometeorite that hit the James Webb Space Telescope probably between May 22 and 24, left “uncorrectable” damage to a small portion of that mirror, according to the report. However, as reported living sciencee, this small dent does not appear to have inhibited the performance of the telescope at all. In fact, the James Webb’s performance is “almost entirely” exceeding expectations, the researchers said.

(The damage can be seen in the lower right corner of the image.)

Still, NASA scientists are still trying to gauge the true impact that micrometeorite impacts like this one could have on the operations of the observatory, which, based on fuel consumption, should last 20 years in space.

Collisions “consistent with expectations”

Similarly, the researchers said micrometeorite impacts were expected to be common well before the telescope’s launch.

“Inevitably, any spacecraft will encounter micrometeorites,” the report says. “During startup, wavefront sensors recorded six localized surface deformations in the primary mirror that are attributed to micrometeorite impact.”

These warps occurred at a “rate of about one per month,” according to the report, which is “consistent with pre-launch expectations.”

According to reports, during the construction of the JWST, engineers intentionally hit mirror samples with micrometeorite-sized objects to see how these impacts would affect the performance of the telescope.

Previous models wrong?

Now scientists are trying to get ahead of the problem, investigating whether the C3 collision was a “rare event” that occurs “only once in several years,” or whether pre-launch models were wrong about the frequency of such events. significant impacts.

Pending further analysis, and despite the unexpected impact on mirror C3, the researchers nonetheless found that the telescope is running smoothly after six months of commissioning, and that it has a bright future of discovery ahead of it.

The JWST was conceived “to enable fundamental advances in our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars, and planetary systems,” the report says. “Now we know for sure that it will.”

Edited by Felipe Espinosa Wang.