It’s fair to say that prior to the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope – which had taken several decades and billions of dollars to design and build – there was a sizable amount of anxiety and trepidation among those who had spent the better part of their lives working on it.
Those fears soon began to melt away, however, as the telescope soared into the heavens just in time for Christmas last year, and while it has since successfully reached its destination, it is not difficult to remain concerned about its potential fragility over the long term.
Such concerns were brought into sharp focus this week when NASA revealed that one of the telescope’s mirrors had been struck by a dust-sized micrometeoroid.
This might not sound like anything significant, however even a tiny speck of dust can cause damage if it is traveling at high enough speeds.
According to reports, the micrometeoroid did produce a “noticeable effect” on the telescope’s data, however its engineers designed the mirrors to be able to withstand such impacts.
“We always knew that Webb would have to weather the space environment, which includes harsh ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and occasional strikes by micrometeoroids within our Solar System,” said NASA’s Paul Geithner.
“We designed and built Webb with performance margin – optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical – to ensure it can perform its ambitious science mission even after many years in space.”
In other words – everything should be fine, at least for now.