NASA’s James Webb telescope launches to find first galaxies

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which promises to gift humanity with the deepest look yet into the mysteries of the cosmos, launched successfully from the European Space Agency spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, the intergovernmental organization announced.

“There it is. There is your critical call. James Webb not only has legs, it has power,” NASA launch commentator Rob Navias said Saturday morning, according to The Washington Post, as the Ariane 5 rocket carrying the telescope blasted off at 7:20 a.m. from the northeast coast of South America.

“Quite a Christmas present for the world’s astronomers,” Navias added.

The $10 billion telescope gives mankind the ability to “directly observe a part of space and time never seen before,” NASA states. “Webb will gaze into the epoch when the very first stars and galaxies formed, over 13.5 billion years ago.”

Researchers hope the telescope will allow them to observe the earliest galaxies formed at the dawn of the universe.

The telescope will eventually reach 1 million miles from Earth.
NASA via AP

The rocket separated from the telescopic observatory 27 minutes into launch at an altitude of about 75 miles above the Earth.

The telescope will position itself about 1 million miles from Earth, on the opposite side of the planet from the Sun, and begin a “commissioning” period of about six months.

Webb will begin to deliver its first images of the universe at the end of those six months. It’s designed to observe the deepest reaches of the universe, along with nearby planets and galaxies, for 5 1/2 years, though it could operate for up to 10 years if fuel supplies last longer than expected, NASA reports.

The Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, observes infrared light, giving it the power to looker deeper into the universe, and therefore farther back in time, than earlier missions.

NASA's launch team watches as countdown to launch this morning at the Jupiter Center in Kourou, French Guiana.
NASA’s launch team watches as countdown to launch on Christmas morning at the Jupiter Center in Kourou, French Guiana.
NASA/Bill Ingalls via EPA

“It’s a revolutionary technology that will study every phase of 13-and-a-half billion years of cosmic history,” NASA’s launch report states. “Webb will reveal new and unexpected discoveries and help humanity understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.”

Advances behind the mission are already paying dividends for humans, NASA claims. For example, technology used to grind and polish the telescope’s mirrors has already been adapted by surgeons performing LASIK surgery to create high-definition maps of patients’ eyes.

“The James Webb Space Telescope represents the ambition that NASA and our partners maintain to propel us forward into the future,” said NASA director Bill Nelson. “The promise of Webb is not what we know we will discover; it’s what we don’t yet understand or can’t yet fathom about our universe. I can’t wait to see what it uncovers!”

The James Webb Space Telescope is packed up for shipment to its launch site earlier this week.
The James Webb Space Telescope could operate up to 10 years.
NASA/Chris Gunn via REUTERS

The Webb telescope is named for the late James Edwin Webb, who led NASA in the 1960s and oversaw the successes of the Mercury and Gemini programs and the early days of the Apollo program.