When the James Webb Space Telescope released five stunning images of the universe earlier this month, it brought decades of precision engineering and astronomical work to its peak. When those images were revealed last week, the buildup was so intense that NASA Administrator Bill Nelson compared the scene to a spirited rally rather than a supposed science gathering.
However, this telescope may have dissipated since last week in light of the recent news that the telescope, despite the tremendous technological development, has suffered irreparable damage due to micrometeorites.
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According to a report published in the preprint database arXiv.org, a small boulder collided with one of the telescope’s 18 gold-coated mirrors, causing significant damage in the process. More specifically, the C3 mirror has a bright white dent in which there must be gold at the location where the exact meteorites made an impact. Although NASA describes the damage as “irreparable,” they added that it did not impair the telescope’s overall performance.
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The report states: “The micro-meteorites that struck segment C3 from May 22-24, 2022 UTC caused a significant, irreversible change in the overall shape of that segment.” “However, the impact was small at the level of the whole telescope because only a small portion of the telescope area was affected.” The report states that “two next steps to reorganization” helped correct the problem.
Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, predicted the agency’s ability to weather this setback when Tweet in June About the early reports regarding the impacts of micro-meteorites on the telescope.
“Micrometeorite strikes are an inevitable aspect of space work,” Zurbuchen wrote. Recently, Webb [telescope] Suffered an impact on one primary mirror segment. After initial evaluations, the team found that the telescope is still operating at a level that exceeds all mission requirements.”
The new arXiv.org report continues to show that the small pebble that hit the C3 mirror was actually just one of 19 that hit the James Webb Space Telescope between February and May 2022.
The James Webb Space Telescope is particularly vulnerable to microwave strikes because the telescope’s mirrors are open and exposed to the vacuum of space. The Hubble Space Telescope, for all intents and purposes, Webb’s technology predecessor, had a cylindrical shell inside which the observational technology sat. In contrast, the Webb telescope is functionally a giant open space reflector without a protective enclosure.
Aside from being smaller overall, another reason Hubble has been remarkably damage-free over the years is its location in space. Hubble orbits comfortably above Earth, close enough that space shuttle astronauts can approach and perform maintenance; Whereas the Webb telescope is so far away at a stable point in space where the Sun and Earth’s gravity are in perfect balance with each other, that the telescope actually remains geostationary. However, since there are only a few spacecraft that have been sent to this point in space – known as L2 Point, short for LaGrange Point – Astronomers have less knowledge of micrometeorite hazards in the area. In contrast, low to medium Earth orbit, where Hubble lives, is saturated with human spacecraft, so its risks are well-studied.
Space news site Space.com has a pessimistic view of the optimistic tone of the new NASA report.
“Microroids are a known danger to space operations, and encountering them is by no means new to scientists; the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope are among the long-running programs that continue to operate despite the occasional hits of space rocks,” Space.com wrote. “However, Webb’s orbit at Lagrange Point 2 about 1 million miles (1.5 million km) from Earth could significantly alter the risk profile.”
Despite the setback in the C3 mirror, the James Webb Space Telescope is still an undeniable success so far. In one of its recently released images, the telescope confirmed the formation of the atmosphere of a distant planet called WASP-96b (which contains water). Other images released showed a planetary nebula called the Southern Ring Nebula. Five nearly adjacent galaxies have been dubbed “Stefan’s Pentagram”; The Carina Nebula, who searches for the whole world like a blanket of horsehair hauled over a bright and colorful sky full of stars; And the cute SMACS 0723 image – the clearest, full-infrared image of the distant universe ever produced.