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As NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope gears up to release its first scientific images on 12 July, engineers are keeping an eye on a small, but potentially impactful, future threat: micrometeoroids. Although mission scientists expected the telescope to be dinged by these tiny bits of space dust over its anticipated 20-year lifetime, a relatively large hit in May has caused them to re-evaluate what they thought they knew about the frequency with which Webb will be pelted.

For now, the telescope’s performance is unharmed. But understanding the future impact risk is crucial because Webb is a US$11-billion investment for NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency — and researchers hope it will transform astronomy. “Time will tell whether that last impact was just kind of an anomaly,” said Mike Menzel, Webb’s lead systems engineer at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, at a news briefing on 29 June.

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