The James Webb Space telescope is expected to give NASA its clearest view into deep space. But before the telescope beams back its first photos, it is already encountering issues in space.
NASA reported this week that a small meteoroid struck the telescope sometime between May 23-25. The object smacked one of the primary mirror segments, which will cause NASA to realign the mirror to reduce distortion caused by the impact.
The space agency said it anticipated the telescope would be bombarded with dust-sized particles, and the strike was larger than anticipated.
“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 Paul Geithner, technical deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “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.”
NASA said that the telescope’s beginning-of-life performance is still well above expectations, and the observatory is fully capable of performing the science it was designed to achieve.
The Webb telescope is expected to essentially replace the Hubble telescope as NASA’s primary view into deep space. The agency expects Webb to send back its first images July 12.
“As we near the end of preparing the observatory for science, we are on the precipice of an incredibly exciting period of discovery about our universe. The release of Webb’s first full-color images will offer a unique moment for us all to stop and marvel at a view humanity has never seen before,” said Eric Smith, Webb program scientist at NASA Headquarters. “These images will be the culmination of decades of dedication, talent, and dreams – but they will also be just the beginning.”