James Webb is on a collision course with debris from Comet Haley

James Webb comet

Image: Alexander Andrews/Unsplash/Reproduction

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was hit by micrometeoroids (or cosmic dust grains) in may of this year, even before starting their scientific investigations. Fortunately, the debris wasn’t enough to derail the mission’s schedule—although the danger isn’t over yet.

Scientists involved in building Webb expect it to be hit by particles from celestial objects at least once a month. However, this frequency can increase depending on the environment the telescope is passing through.

In May 2023 and also in 2024, James Webb is expected to cross the wake left by Halley’s Comet. Basically, the US$ 10 billion equipment will undergo an intense meteor shower, with pebbles the size of a grain of sand capable of reaching a speed of 10 km/s.

Now, engineers are studying a way to mitigate the problems caused by cosmic dust. Hubble, for example, has a bodywork around it, while Webb is completely unprotected in the region of Lagrange 2 point, almost 1,500 km away from Earth.

Haley’s comet

On the other hand, there is no need to worry about the comet itself. It is not expected to return to the Solar System until after 2061, when it will pass relatively close to Earth. James Webb’s mission is estimated to last only ten years, which means the telescope will no longer be operating when Halley returns.

It is worth mentioning that the icy body is responsible for the Eta Aquarids meteor showers, which take place in May, and Orionids, seen every October. Both produce an average of 20 shooting stars per hour, creating a real spectacle in the sky. Check out other astronomical events happening in 2022 here.

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