After nearly two and a half decades of hard work, the US space agency and its partners on Saturday launched its next-generation space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, that will help solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the origins of our universe and our place in it.
The next-generation, $10 billion telescope was successfully lifted off to space (5:50 pm India time) from Europe’s primary launch site in French Guiana, South America, atop a European Ariane 5 rocket.
“We have LIFTOFF of the @NASAWebb Space Telescope!” the space agency wrote on Twitter.
“At 7:20 am ET (12:20 UTC), the beginning of a new, exciting decade of science climbed to the sky. Webb’s mission to #UnfoldTheUniverse will change our understanding of space as we know it,” it added.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the largest and most powerful space science telescope ever built. It can observe all of the cosmos, from planets to stars to nebulae to galaxies and beyond.AIt has a large infrared telescope with a 21.3 feet (6.5 meter) primary mirror.
Webb is an international programme led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.
Once it is free of the rocket, Webb will spend the next 30 days travelling to its final destination roughly 1 million miles from the Earth and begin probing the cosmos.
“This is an Apollo moment for NASA science: Webb will fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe, helping scientists uncover secrets of the distant universe as well as exoplanets closer to home,” according to NASA.
Webb is engineered to build upon the ground-breaking discoveries of other spacecraft, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope.
While Hubble views the universe in visible and ultraviolet light, Webb focuses on infrared, a wavelength important for peering through gas and dust to see distant objects.
“Webb will study infrared light from celestial objects with much greater clarity and sensitivity than ever before. Unlike the short, tight wavelengths of visible light, longer wavelengths of infrared light slip past dust more easily,” NASA said.
Webb was first targeted to launch in March this year. It was later pushed back to October due to impacts from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as technical challenges.
But in September, NASA confirmed plans to launch the telescope into orbit on December 18, which was again moved back to December 22. Later, it was delayed again to December 24.
And then, the mission has once more been delayed until at the earliest December 25.