(ORDO NEWS) — As NASA prepares to release the first scientific images of the James Webb Space Telescope on July 12, engineers are keeping an eye on the small but potentially serious threat posed to the telescope by micrometeorites.
Although engineers expected the telescope to be bombarded by tiny space dust particles during its planned 20-year lifetime, a relatively large micrometeorite impact on one of the telescope’s mirrors in May forced engineers to take a closer look at the threat posed by space rocks.
The May micrometeorite impact left a slight distortion in one of the 18 hexagonal segments that make up the main mirror of the telescope.
Because the positions of the mirror segments can be adjusted with extreme precision, the engineers were able to fine-tune the damaged part in such a way that there was no degradation in the resulting images.
Large micrometeorites are much rarer than small particles, so it is possible that the telescope was simply unlucky enough to encounter a large meteorite at a relatively early stage of its life.
As with the ISS modules, the James Webb telescope mirrors will accumulate small damage over time.
Now researchers are predicting the meteor showers that the space telescope will have to go through, with the biggest danger in the coming years likely to come in May 2023 and May 2024, when the James Webb Telescope has to fly through the debris of Halley’s comet.
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