NASA does not yet know how much micrometeorite impacts will affect the performance of the observatory, and whether it can last 20 years.
The Webb Space Telescope has already officially begun its work in space at a distance of 1.5 million km from Earth. Its main task is to see the earliest stars and galaxies in our universe and help scientists answer “cosmic” questions that still remain unanswered. But the “life” of the Webb telescope is threatened by such space rocks as micrometeorites. They can be quite tiny, the size of a speck of dust, or they can be really threatening rocks with a much larger size. It was such a micrometeorite that hit one of the segments of the main mirror, causing significant damage to it, according to Space.
For all the time of preparation for work, and it took six months, small space stones – micrometeorites – fell into the main mirror of the Webb telescope, which has a diameter of 6.5 m, once a month. But at the end of May, a fairly large stone hit one of the 18 segments of the mirror called C3, which caused significant damage.
Big stone – big problems
According to the NASA report, this space rock was much larger than simulations of possible telescope collisions with such objects showed. The space agency has released a photo of the Webb telescope's main mirror showing the aftermath of the impact.
The report said that the damage that was done to the observatory was more than scientists expected. Now NASA is trying to predict how such space rocks can affect the performance of the Webb telescope and whether it will be able to work in space for the planned 20 years.
What are the predictions for the further operation of the telescope?
Despite The fact that damage to one of the segments of the main mirror did not greatly affect the operation of the entire telescope and the main mirror performs its functionality, scientists still cannot say for sure what will happen to the telescope in the future if large micrometeorites fall into it.
Accidental collisions of micrometeorites with the Hubble Space Telescope and even with the ISS did not prevent them from continuing their work in space for several decades. But the problem is that both the Hubble and the orbital station are in near-Earth space, and the Webb telescope is much further from the Earth, where it is more prone to accidental impacts of micrometeorites.
As Focus, NASA found out that a similar threat from micrometeorites will exist for the Webb telescope every month. But scientists have already aligned the mirror segments after the next impact and believe that in this way they will be able to reconfigure it further.
But it all depends on the size of the space rock, which will potentially collide with the Webb telescope every month. According to previous simulations, large rocks can hit the telescope with a frequency of no more than once every few years. But scientists are not yet sure of the accuracy of such predictions.
Scientists will continue to create new models of possible events in space that the Webb telescope may encounter in the truest sense of the word. So far, scientists see one of the solutions to this problem in carrying out maneuvers to slightly change the flight path of the space observatory in order to avoid dangerous threats. After all, as Focus already wrote, the flight speed of micrometeorites can reach 1000 m/s. And if it's a large enough micrometeorite, then it can cause significant damage to the main Webb mirror.
So far, preliminary modeling has shown that large space rocks that Halley's incoming comet leaves behind can pose a serious danger to the telescope Webb in May 2023 and 2024.
Webb Telescope launch
Focushas already published the first scientific images of the Webb Space Telescope, which NASA presented on July 12, with a detailed description of what is shown in them. By the way, these objects were already photographed by the Hubble telescope, but the new images are much more detailed and more colorful.
In addition to distant galaxies and nebulae, the Webb telescope was able to photograph Jupiter and several of its satellites while adjusting its instruments. Only Europe is visible in this image, but in the images already published by Focus, two more satellites of the gas giant are visible.
As for the Hubble telescope, as Focus already wrote, it will not finish its work with the commissioning of the Webb telescope, but will be a reliable assistant for the new observatory.