A small piece of rock has just slammed into NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope.
Recently, one of James Webb’s 18 mirrors was hit by a micrometeorite – or a piece of meteorite so small it could pass through Earth’s atmosphere without burning.
While this could be problematic because impacts can move Webb’s mirror segments out of place, NASA researchers say there’s no need to worry.
Not only was the $10 billion space instrument designed to withstand damage from space, but it also comes equipped with sensors to adjust its own mirrors.
If unsuccessful, Mission Control can also adjust Webb’s mirrors from Earth.
“We always knew Webb would have to tackle the space environment,” said Paul Geithner, engineer and deputy technical project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
This includes harsh ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from alien sources in the galaxy, and occasional micrometeoroid impacts.
“We designed and built Webb with a margin of performance – optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical – to ensure that it can accomplish its ambitious scientific mission even after many years in space,” Geithner added.
The micrometeoroid hit the telescope between May 23 and May 25.
The researchers say the impact could help them better understand the Earth-Sun 2 (L2) Lagrange point, where Webb is currently orbiting.
It can also help scientists develop strategies to protect the telescope in the future.
“Since launch, we have had four smaller measurable micrometeoroid impacts which were in line with expectations and this one more recently which is larger than our assumed degradation predictions.” Lee Feinberg, element manager for NASA Goddard’s Webb Optical Telescope, said.
“We will use this flight data to update our performance analysis over time and also develop operational approaches to ensure that we best maximize Webb’s imaging performance for many years to come.”
Webb floated at L2, about 930,000 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.
This story originally appeared on The Sun and has been reproduced here with permission.