NASA reports tiny space rock hit James Webb Space Telescope

(ORDO NEWS) — In its new home away from Earth, the James Webb Space Telescope may not be as alone as it seems.

The space pocket occupied by the telescope is not a complete vacuum – and now the inevitable has happened: a tiny piece of rock, a micrometeorite, has collided with one of the segments of Webb’s mirror.

But there is no need to panic. The engineers who built the telescope are well aware of the harsh conditions of space, and Webb has been carefully designed to withstand them.

“We always knew that Webb would have to endure space conditions, including harsh ultraviolet radiation. light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and random micrometeoroid impacts within our solar system,” says Engineer and Deputy Project Manager Paul Geithner of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

“We designed and built the Webb with performance optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical to ensure it can carry out its ambitious science mission even after years in space.” style.

NASA reports tiny space rock hit James Webb Space Telescope 2

This is what is known as the Lagrange or Lagrange Point, where the gravitational interaction between two rotating bodies (in this case the Earth and the Sun) is balanced by the centripetal force of the orbit to create a stable pocket in which to “park” low mass objects to reduce fuel consumption. . .

This is very useful for science, but these regions can collect other things as well.

For example, Jupiter has swarms of asteroids dividing its orbit at two Lagrange points. he shares with the sun. Other planets also have asteroids at their Lagrange points, although there are far fewer of them than Jupiter.

It is not clear exactly how much L2 dust has collected, but it would be foolish to expect that this region did not collect it at all.

So Webb was specifically designed to withstand the bombardment of dust-sized particles moving at extremely high speeds. Not only did Webb’s design include simulations, the engineers conducted test impacts on sample mirrors to get an idea of ​​what the effects of the space environment might be and try to mitigate them.

Bumps can move mirror segments, but the telescope has sensors to measure the position of its mirrors and the ability to adjust them to help correct any distortion that may occur.

Mission Control here on Earth can also send corrections to Webb to place the mirrors where they should be. Its optics can even be turned away from known meteor showers in advance.

And the Webb was built with a huge margin of error so that the expected physical degradation over time won’t lead to a premature end to the mission.

It is probably in a better position than Hubble, which, in low Earth orbit, was subjected not only to micrometeorite impacts, but also to constant space bombardment. garbage.

However, unlike Hubble, the distance to Webb means that technicians will not be able to physically come and make repairs. (Not that Hubble has been serviced lately; the last such mission was in 2009, and it won’t get another one.)

The micrometeoroid that hit the telescope – sometime between May 23 and 25 – was a random event. However, the impact turned out to be stronger than expected, which means that it provides an opportunity to better understand the L2 environment and try to find strategies to protect the telescope in the future.

“With Webb mirrors open to space. , we expected that random micrometeoroid impacts would gracefully degrade the performance of the telescope over time, says Lee Feinberg of NASA Goddard, Webb Optical Telescope Elements Manager. with expectations, and the recent result is larger than our degradation forecasts assumed.

“We will use this flight data to update our performance analysis over time, as well as to develop operational approaches to ensure we are maximizing image quality. Webb to the fullest extent possible for many years to come.”

The first full color and spectroscopic images from Webb are due on schedule, July 12, 2022. We absolutely can’t.

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