The mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is damaged by a tiny space rock

A tiny meteoroid hit the main mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope just over a month before the observatory’s first real-color images were released.

NASA said the dust-sized space rock damage was having a noticeable effect in the $ 10 billion (£ 7.4 billion) telescope data, but shouldn’t limit the mission’s performance.

The US space agency added that the impact would in no way spoil the “wow” factor of the telescope’s first views of the cosmos, which are expected to be unveiled to the public on July 12.

The micrometeoroid hit the newly deployed James Webb between May 23-25, causing one of its gold-plated mirrors to lose alignment but not changing the orbiting observatory’s schedule to become fully operational anytime soon, experts said.

NASA has revealed that it was the fifth and largest space rock to hit the telescope since its launch last December.

Analysis indicates that the impact left a “dimple” in the segment of the mirror known as C3, one of 18 beryllium-gold tiles that make up Webb’s 21-foot primary reflector.

Damage: A tiny meteoroid hit the main mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope (pictured) just a month before the observatory’s first real-color images were released

NASA said the dust-sized space rock damage was having a noticeable effect in the $ 10 billion (£ 7.4 billion) telescope data, but shouldn't limit mission performance.

NASA said the dust-sized space rock damage was having a noticeable effect in the $ 10 billion (£ 7.4 billion) telescope data, but shouldn’t limit mission performance.

KEY FACTS: NASA’S $ 10 BILLION JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE

Operator: NASA

Launched: December 25, 2021

Full operation begins: Summer 2022

Position: Point L2 Sun-Earth

Type of orbit: Orbit of the halo

Duration of the mission: 20 years (expected)

Telescope diameter: 21 feet (6.5 m)

Focal length: 431 feet (131.4 m)

Wavelengths: 0.6-28.3 µm

“After initial evaluations, the team found that the telescope is still functioning at a level that exceeds all mission requirements,” NASA said in a statement.

‘Through the analysis and measurements are ongoing.’

Engineers have begun a gentle readjustment of the affected mirror segment to help “erase some of the distortion” caused by the micrometeoroid, the US space agency said.

Webb parked in a solar orbit about one million miles (1.6 million km) from Earth in January and is expected to produce its first color images next month.

“This recent impact did not cause any changes to Webb’s schedule of operations,” NASA said.

Webb’s mirror was designed to withstand bombardment with dust-sized particles flying at extreme speeds through space, but the most recent impact was “larger than it had been modeled and beyond what the team could have tested. to the ground”.

The telescope is considered to be the most powerful space observatory ever built, with a suite of sensors and 18 gold-plated mirror segments working together to search for distant planets and galaxies from the earliest stages of the universe.

Engineers designed it to withstand the occasional impacts of micrometeoroids, tiny space rocks that travel at ultra-high speeds during predicted meteor showers near Webb’s position in space.

Last month’s micrometeoroid didn’t come from any meteor showers, NASA said.

The US space agency called the impact “an unavoidable random event” and said it called a team of engineers to study ways to avoid future impacts from similar space rocks.

James Webb's main mirror consists of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-plated beryllium metal and measures 6.5 meters in diameter. It is supported by three shallow carbon fiber tubes, or struts, which extend from the large primary mirror

James Webb’s main mirror consists of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-plated beryllium metal and measures 6.5 meters in diameter. It is supported by three shallow carbon fiber tubes, or struts, which extend from the large primary mirror

WHAT TOOLS DOES JAMES WEBB HAVE?

NIRCam (Near InfraRed Camera) an infrared imager from the edge of the visible through the near infrared

NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph) will also perform spectroscopy on the same wavelength range.

MIRI (Mid-InfraRed Instrument) will measure the wavelength range of the mid-long infrared from 5 to 27 micrometers.

FGS / NIRISS (Fine Guidance Sensor and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph), is used to stabilize the observatory’s line of sight during scientific observations.

Earlier this month, NASA said the release of Webb’s first color images would be “a unique time for all of us to stop and marvel at a view humanity has never seen before.”

Officials have previously released a series of engineering images to demonstrate that all hardware works as it should on the telescope.

Those images showed slightly different views of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of our Milky Way, but it’s unclear what the first color images will capture.

Webb went through a six-month preparation period before he could begin scientific work, calibrating his instruments to his space environment and aligning his mirrors.

It was launched into space on December 25 last year and later settled in orbit one million miles from our planet.

Scientists hope that the observatory – a 32-year-old replacement for the Hubble telescope – will be able to peer back in time 13.5 billion years to a point within just 100-200 million years of the Big Bang.

It has an ambitious mission to study the early universe, understand how fast it is expanding, and analyze objects across the cosmos, from galaxies to exoplanets.

NASA said Webb was now at “full power” and “ready to begin his scientific mission”.

Once each of Webb’s tools has been calibrated, tested and given the green light by its science and engineering teams, the first spectroscopic images and observations will be made.

The team will proceed through a list of goals that have been pre-selected, before the images are processed for the audience.

Webb is about 100 times more powerful than the iconic Hubble telescope, allowing it to observe objects at greater distances, therefore further back in time, than Hubble or any other telescope.

NASA likes to think of James Webb as a Hubble successor rather than a replacement, as the two will be working in tandem for a while.

The new telescope began development in 1996 and was originally slated for launch in 2007, but a major redesign in 2005 restored it and a series of further delays led to it eventually ending in orbit late last year.

It is an international collaboration led by NASA in collaboration with European and Canadian space agencies.

THE JAMES WEBB TELESCOPE

The James Webb telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unravel the secrets of our universe.

The telescope will be used to look back at the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even moons and planets in our solar system.

The vast telescope, which has already cost more than $ 7 billion (£ 5 billion), is considered a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope

The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin, about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).

It is the largest and most powerful orbital space telescope in the world, capable of peering back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.