(ORDO NEWS) — Micrometeoroid impacts are an inevitable aspect of the operation of any spacecraft. The James Webb Space Telescope was designed to withstand continuous bombardment by these extreme speed particles.
“We experienced 14 measurable micrometeoroid impacts on our primary mirror, as expected, averaging one to two impacts per month.
The optical errors caused by all but one of them were within what we planned and expected when building the observatory,” said Mike Menzel, lead systems engineer for the Webb mission at NASA‘s Goddard Space Flight Center.
“One of them exceeded our expectations; however, even after this event, our current optical performance is still twice our requirements.”
To ensure that all parts of the observatory continue to perform at their best, NASA has convened a working group of optics and micrometeoroid experts from the Webb team.
After careful analysis, the team concluded that the higher energy impact seen in May was a rare statistical event, both in terms of energy and hitting a particularly sensitive spot on Webb’s primary mirror.
To minimize future impacts of this magnitude, the team decided that future observations would be planned away from the micrometeoroid zone of avoidance.
“Micrometeoroids that hit the mirror head (moving in the opposite direction of the telescope) have twice the relative speed and four times the kinetic energy, so avoiding this direction when possible will help extend the excellent optical performance for decades. ,” said Lee Feinberg, manager of NASA’s Goddard Center.
This does not mean that these areas of the sky cannot be observed. Observations of these objects will be safer at other times of the year when Webb changes position in its orbit.
Time-critical observations will continue to be made in the micrometeoroid avoidance zone if required. This adjustment will have a long-term statistical benefit.
The team will implement this system starting in the second year of Webb research. More information and advice on the new observing cycle is available in the JWST Observer Newsletter.
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