NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has been pummeled by micrometeorites ever since its debut.
And while the scientists who developed the ten-billion-dollar observatory were well aware of this reality, even they weren't able to predict the kind of damage the telescope's 18 giant mirror segments could sustain due to larger-than-expected particles.
But there might be a small upside to all that, as Space.com reports — the telescope could be used to measure patterns and changes in the micrometeorites permeating our solar system, a potential wealth of scientific data.
"It is essentially a meteoroid flux detector, although not intentionally," Margaret Campbell-Brown, a meteor physicist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, told Space.com. "Although, of course, we're sad for them when their mirror gets hit by meteoroids."
Micrometeorites are highly elusive since they're far too small to be picked up by telescopes. So far, scientists have had to resort to studying how they interact with our planet's atmosphere by detecting their ensuing trails.
But the micrometeorites hitting the James Webb could allow scientists to study the difference between the expected kind of meteor showers that we are already familiar with and "sporadic" ones, which are micrometeorites that travel via random orbits that are far less understood.
"It's a little more work to observe sporadics than meteor showers, because they're not nicely organized into events," NASA meteor scientist Althea Moorhead told Space.com.
Then there are the different kinds of meteorites that happen to get blasted into the telescope's mirrors.
"Of course it makes a big difference if your spacecraft gets hit by a solid rock as opposed to kind of a fluffy aggregate of little grains," Campbell-Brown told the publication. "One's like being sandblasted, and the other one's like being shot."
Despite the pelting forcing scientists to adjust the telescope's orbit last year, James Webb scientists are elated with the telescope's performance and ability to ward off any significant damage.
"For the most part, we've been getting about one to two a month that we can actually detect," JWST scientist Lee Feinberg told Space.com. "At this point, it's really been a very minor thing."
READ MORE: The James Webb Space Telescope gets its own micrometeoroid forecast — here's how [Space.com]
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