The James Webb Space Telescope Can Predict Its Own Micrometeoroid Forecast — Here’s How

The James Webb Space Telescope is primarily used to investigate the interiors of faraway galaxies, while it is also studying nearby, much smaller objects.

Micrometeoroids are little, mysterious things that fly at the speed of light through space. These objects are too tiny to be observed from orbit, but this hasn’t stopped scientists from considering them seriously. Proof that even small meteoroids may inflict damage is provided by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (Webb or JWST). More than twenty micrometeoroid strikes have been reported by engineers since JWST’s launch in December 2021, but only one has caused major damage to the observatory. The revelation that the mission is making adjustments to its operations in order to reduce the frequency of micrometeoroid impacts is probably the least expected piece of information to come out of the brand-new, cutting-edge observatory.

Worries and Anticipation
In May 2022, before routine observations had begun, a relatively big micrometeoroid impacted the observatory’s enormous golden mirror, stressing the JWST crew since they had not taken the threat from these tiny particles seriously.

By the time the observatory marked a year from its December 2021 launch, scientists and engineers had established that the micro-meteoroid in question was sufficiently large that they would not expect to encounter such an object more frequently than once a year.

The team has altered its observing approach to reduce the amount of time the telescope is in the line of the most destructive impacts since they want to use JWST for at least another two decades.

Further understanding of micrometeoroids is also essential.

Atypical of Observatories
Before now, nothing has come close to what the JWST is experiencing. At a position perpendicular to the solar system, the $10 billion observatory is around 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from both the Earth and the sun. Position 2 in Earth’s Lagrangian orbit around the Sun (L2). L2 is a fuel-efficient outpost where gravitational forces cancel each other out, making it ideal for the telescope’s high-power infrared optics, which need to be protected from the sun.

To ensure that scientists can make sense of their findings, engineers must regularly inspect the mirror’s smoothness while leaving the massive aperture exposed to space. Even so, scientists have only deployed a few spacecraft to L2. The Hubble Space Telescope, in contrast, has robust features like a protective tube that can absorb impact without showing any evidence of wear and tear.

Notwithstanding the panic that ensued in May, the JWST team always understood that the observatory would be subject to attacks from micrometeoroids. All three space observatories were destroyed during their respective missions: the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the International Space Station. Despite making contact, it produces extremely little damage and has almost little bearing on the outcome.

Although engineers don’t have a technique for accelerating tiny particles all the way to the velocity they reach in the solar system, mission management simulated micrometeoroid strikes on a mirror in the early phases of the JWST design process. Researchers were able to estimate the overall number of potential assaults on the observatory throughout its expected five-year operating lifetime by applying existing models.

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