NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was launched on a rocket from the northeastern coast of South America earlier on Saturday, with the aim of giving the world a glimpse of the universe when the first galaxies formed, ushering in a new era of astronomy.
The revolutionary $9 billion infrared telescope, hailed by NASA as the premiere space-science observatory of the next decade, was carried aloft inside the cargo bay of an Ariane 5 rocket that blasted off at about 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT) from the European Space Agency s (ESA) launch base in French Guiana.
The flawless Christmas Day launch, with a countdown conducted in French, was carried live on a joint NASA-ESA webcast.
27 minutes after entering space, the 14,000-pound instrument was released from the upper stage of the French-made rocket. Over the next 13 days, as it continues to sail, it should gradually unfold to almost the size of a tennis court. my own.
Live video captured by a camera mounted on the rocket s upper stage showed the Webb moving gently away high above the Earth as it was jettisoned. Flight controllers confirmed moments later that Webb s power supply was operational.
Coasting through space for two more weeks, the Webb telescope will reach its destination in solar orbit 1 million miles from Earth – about four times farther away than the moon. And Webb s special orbital path will keep it in constant alignment with the Earth as the planet and telescope circle the sun in tandem.
By comparison, Webb s 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, orbits the Earth from 340 miles away, passing in and out of the planet s shadow every 90 minutes.
Named after the man who oversaw NASA through most of its formative decade of the 1960s, Webb is about 100 times more sensitive than Hubble and is expected to transform scientists understanding of the universe and our place in it.
Webb mainly will view the cosmos in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to gaze through clouds of gas and dust where stars are being born, while Hubble has operated primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.