The world’s largest and most powerful space telescope set off on Saturday on an extremely dangerous mission to monitor light from the first stars and galaxies and search the universe for traces of life.
To this, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope flew from French Guiana on the northeastern coast of South America, aboard a European Ariane rocket in the Christmas morning sky.
The $10 billion observatory blasted off toward its destination a million miles (1.6 million km), or more than four times beyond the moon.
It will take another month and five months to get there before the infrared eyes are ready to begin scanning the universe.
First, the telescope’s enormous mirror and sun cover must open; It was folded in origami style to fit the cone of the rocket’s nose. Otherwise, the observatory wouldn’t be able to look back in 13.7 billion years as expected, within just 100 million years of the universe’s Big Bang.
“It will give us a better understanding of our universe and our place in it: who we are, what we are and the eternal search,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said earlier this week.
But he cautioned: “When you want a big reward, you usually have to take a big risk.”
Designed as a successor to the old Hubble Space Telescope, James Webb is named after a NASA administrator during the 1960s. NASA has partnered with European and Canadian space agencies to build and launch the new 7-ton telescope, which has been staffed by thousands of people from 29 countries since the 1990s.