NASA warns a $10 billion ‘time-travelling’ space telescope has been hit by a ‘micrometeorite’

A SMALL piece of rock has just smashed into Nasa’s new James Webb Space Telescope.

Recently, one of James Webb’s 18 mirrors was struck by a micrometeorite — or a piece of meteorite so small it can pass through Earth’s atmosphere without burning.

A tiny piece of rock has just smashed into NASA's new James Webb Space Telescope.


A tiny piece of rock has just smashed into NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope.Credit: EPA

While this can be problematic, since bumps can shift Webb’s mirror segments, Nasa researchers say there’s nothing to worry about.

The $10 billion space instrument is not only designed to withstand the damage of space, but it’s equipped with sensors to adjust its own mirrors.

If that fails, Mission Control can also adjust Webb’s mirror from Earth.

“We always knew Webb would survive the space environment,” said Paul Geithner, engineer and technical assistant project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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These include hard ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from extraneous sources in the galaxy, and the occasional impact from micrometeoroids.

“We designed and built Webb with performance headroom — optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical — to ensure it can continue to fulfill its ambitious scientific mission even after many years in space,” added Geithner.

The micrometeoroid struck the telescope sometime between May 23rd and 25th.

Researchers say the impact could help them better understand Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 2 (L2), where Webb is currently in orbit.

It can also help scientists develop strategies to protect the telescope in the future.

“Since launch, we’ve had four smaller measurable micrometeoroid impacts that were in line with expectations, and this one, which is larger more recently than our predictions of deterioration suggested,” Lee Feinberg, element manager of NASA Goddard’s Webb Optic Telescope, said.

“We will use this flight data to update our performance analysis over time and also develop operational approaches to ensure we maximize Webb’s imaging performance as much as possible for many years to come.”

Webb’s mission

Webb was hovering at L2, about 930.00 miles from Earth, toward Mars to scan the night sky for faint infrared light.

These lights, which could be visible from the first generation of stars and galaxies, will help researchers better understand the beginnings of our universe.

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Some other goals of the Webb mission include looking at distant exoplanets and hopefully answering some of science’s most pressing questions, such as how fast the universe is expanding.

Webb launched last Christmas Day and is expected to transmit its first full color and spectroscopic images on July 12th.

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Chris Barrese

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