The 21-foot -wide golden mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb or JWST), which has yet to celebrate its launch anniversary, has been struck by 14 dust-sized micrometeoroids in recent months, as reported first by Space.com.

Although the observatory’s view is still breathtaking and largely undamaged, mission personnel have chosen to change the telescope’s operations to avoid directly confronting areas known as “micrometeoroid avoidance zones.”

nasa james webb space telescope, james webb space telescope, james webb

(Photo : Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 08: In this photo illustration, U.S. Postal Service unveils a new stamp featuring the James Webb Space Telescope during the First Day of Issue dedication ceremony at the U.S. Postal Museum on September 08, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Micrometeoroid Strikes

According to Mike Menzel, Webb’s lead mission systems engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, the telescope has received 14 detectable micrometeoroid strikes on its primary mirror and is experiencing one to two each month on average.

“One of these was higher than our expectations and prelaunch models; however, even after this event our current optical performance is still twice as good as our requirements,” Menzel said in a statement.

Hence, NASA assembled a working group of optics and micrometeoroid specialists from the NASA Goddard Webb team, the telescope’s mirror manufacturer, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center, to ensure all components of the observatory continue to operate at their peak levels.

The team came to the conclusion that the higher-energy impact seen in May was a statistical anomaly due to its high energy and the fact that it struck a particularly vulnerable area of Webb’s primary mirror.

They have also determined that future observations would be scheduled to face away from what is now termed the “micrometeoroid avoidance zone” in order to reduce future impacts of this scale.

Prolonging Webb’s Optical Performance

According to Lee Feinberg, manager of the Webb optical telescope element at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, micrometeoroids hurling toward the mirror have four times the kinetic energy and twice the relative velocity so straying away from this direction will help prolong Webb’s optical performance.

Webb is orbiting a region known as a Lagrange point, where gravitational pulls balance out to form “parking spots” that spacecraft can use to cut down on the fuel and maneuvers required to maintain their position, as per Space.com.

On the side of our planet that faces away from the sun, over 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth, lies the Lagrange point of the space telescope.

The telescope will try to keep its mirror out of these zones when conducting observations starting next summer when Webb begins its second year of science operations.

The Webb team will plan such observations for a different season when the threat from micrometeoroids in the required direction is reduced.

According to NASA officials, the adjustment won’t hinder science but will make scheduling the observatory more challenging.

Written by Jace Dela Cruz

TECH NEWS RELATED

SpaceX’s last Starlink launch of 2022 is a bit of a mystery

In a strange twist, SpaceX says that its next Starlink mission will launch 54 satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO), implying that they’re roughly the same size as the V1.5 satellites it’s already launching – not the larger V2 or V2 Mini satellites hinted in recent FCC filings. However, ...

View more: SpaceX’s last Starlink launch of 2022 is a bit of a mystery

Is Mining in Space Socially Acceptable?

Traditional mining has been subject to a negative stigma for some time. People, especially in developed countries, have a relatively negative view of this necessary economic activity. Primarily that is due to its environmental impacts – greenhouse gas emissions and habitat destruction are some of the effects that give ...

View more: Is Mining in Space Socially Acceptable?

Astronomy 2023: Top Sky Watching Highlights for the Coming Year

Astronomy 2023 highlights include two fine solar eclipses, the Sun heading towards solar maximum, a series of spectacular lunar occultations and much more. Been out enjoying the sky in 2022? The past year saw two fine total lunar eclipses, a surprise meteor outburst from the Tau Herculids, a fine ...

View more: Astronomy 2023: Top Sky Watching Highlights for the Coming Year

Canada takes boldest stance on electric vehicles yet

Canada recently released the first details of its flagship policy to achieve one of its most ambitious climate goals to date — by 2035, every new car sold in the country must be emissions-free. While ambitious, Canada may very well achieve the milestone within the next 12 years. Despite ...

View more: Canada takes boldest stance on electric vehicles yet

Despite the low air Pressure, Wind Turbines Might Actually Work on Mars

Mars might not be the first place you would think of when thinking about where wind power might be useful. It has dust storms similar in scale to anything that the Earth can muster, and they’ve been responsible for the death of lots of the technology we’ve sent to ...

View more: Despite the low air Pressure, Wind Turbines Might Actually Work on Mars

NASA Makes Asteroid Defense a Priority, Moving its NEO Surveyor Mission Into the Development Phase

There’s an old adage in the engineering field – what gets funded gets built. So it’s sure to be a happy time over at the Planetary Society, as NEO Surveyor, the project the organization has primarily supported over the past few years, has made it through NASA’s grueling budgetary ...

View more: NASA Makes Asteroid Defense a Priority, Moving its NEO Surveyor Mission Into the Development Phase

Lightweight Picogram-Scale Probes Could be the Best way to Explore Other Star Systems

Inspiration for space exploration can come from all corners. One of the most inspiring, or terrifying, sources of inspiration for some in space exploration came from computer science expert John von Neumann, who laid out a framework for self-replicating machines in a series of lectures he gave in 1948. ...

View more: Lightweight Picogram-Scale Probes Could be the Best way to Explore Other Star Systems

The Universe is Brighter Than we Thought

Over seven years ago, the New Horizons mission made history when it became the first spacecraft to conduct a flyby of Pluto. In the leadup to this encounter, the spacecraft provided updated data and images of many objects in the inner and outer Solar System. Once beyond the orbit ...

View more: The Universe is Brighter Than we Thought

Is the Milky Way… Normal?

Anti-Helium Generated in the Large Hadron Collider can Help in the Search for Dark Matter

Webb’s New Image Reveals a Galaxy Awash in Star Formation

SpaceX wins Sentinel 6B radar satellite launch contract

Scientists Investigate Potential Regolith Origin on Uranus’ Moon, Miranda

A Star Came too Close to a Black Hole. It Didn’t End Well

Perseverance Places its First Sample on the Surface of Mars. One Day This Will be in the Hands of Scientists on Earth

SpaceX might launch first Starlink Gen2 satellites next week

NASA Just Tested a new Engine That Will Launch Artemis V and Beyond

This Will Probably Be InSight’s Last Picture Before it Runs Out of Power Forever

Webb Stares Deeply Into the Universe, Showing How Galaxies Assemble

Astronomers Scanned 12 Planets for Alien Signals While They Were in Front of Their Stars

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News