NASA watch out for space rocks damaging James Webb Telescope


Scientists may need to avoid pointing the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) too often in certain directions to minimize the risk of damage from space rocks.

NASA operators are considering limiting the directions in which the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is pointed, to prevent further collision damage.

Last month, the telescope was unexpectedly hit by a large micrometeoroid, which hit one of the 18 segments of the JWST’s main mirror and caused significant damage. The collision forced the team to adjust the damaged mirror to compensate for data distortion, but NASA warned that it was not possible to completely neutralize the effects of the impact.

In order to minimize the risks for the $9bn (£8.4bn) telescope and avoid further head-on collisions, Nasa is reportedly considering do not point it in certain directions where there is a greater presence of space rocks.

James Webb Soace/NASA Telescope

Image credit: NASA

During the six-month period of instrument testing called commissioningJWST was hit by at least six micrometeoroids, bits of space dust that orbit the sun, usually smaller than a grain of sand, ranging in size from 10 microns to 2 mm.

Although an expected hazard, the micrometeoroid that hit the telescope in June was larger than the team had prepared for and punctured the mirror’s protective coating, causing a small but perceptible.

“We knew Webb would face a challenging space environment, which includes severe ultraviolet radiation and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and accidental micrometeoroid impacts,” explained technical specialist Paul Geithner.

Nevertheless, the damage to the telescope did not prevent the device from capturing ‘Webb’s First Deep Field’, deepest and most detailed image of the cosmos to date, illustrating a cluster of galaxies called SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago.

JWST’s light-gathering ability is more than twice that of Hubble and its size is larger than two double-decker buses. Since the telescope’s instruments must be cooled to -267°C, JWST orbits Earth on the far side of the Moon, shrouded in its shadow and shielded from the Sun.

Launched on Christmas Day 2021, the $9 billion James Webb Telescope is the largest and most powerful space science telescope ever launched, designed to give scientists more detailed insight into the beginning of the universe, the birth of stars, and possibly the origins of life.

By paying attention to the positioning of the telescope, NASA aims to ensure that JWST can continue its mission for many years to come, offering, as US President Joe Biden predicted, “a new window into the history of our universe”.

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