The world’s largest and most powerful space telescope sets out on an ambitious mission to observe the light of the first stars and galaxies and scan the universe for signs of life.

NASA’s James Webb Telescope left French Guiana, Off the northeastern coast of South America, aboard a European Ariane missile and Towards the sky on Christmas morning.

The $10 billion observatory has sailed toward its destination 1.6 million kilometers, or more than four times the distance to the Moon. It will take a month to arrive and it will take another five months before our infrared eyes begin scanning the universe.

The massive mirror and solar shield of the telescope must first be deployed. It folds like an origami into the conical nose of the rocket. Otherwise, the observatory would not be able to look back 13.7 billion years later, as expected, only 100 million years after the Big Bang that formed the universe.

“It will give us a better understanding of our universe and our place in it: who we are, what we are, and the eternal quest,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said this week.

However, he cautioned, “when you want a big reward, you usually have to take a big risk.”

Designed to succeed the old space telescope Hubble, James Webb is named after a NASA administrator during the 1960s. NASA has teamed up with the European and Canadian space agencies to build and launch a new seven-ton telescope. The long-awaited project has employed thousands of people from 29 countries since the 1990s.


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