Nasa launches James Webb space telescope worth $10bn

On Christmas day 25th December, Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope, the world’s largest and most powerful telescope built to date, successfully blasted into orbit. The launch marked the long-awaited start of the Webb telescope’s mission, after more than 30 years of development and countless delays.

Described as a “time machine” by scientists, the telescope will allow astronomers to study the beginning of the universe shortly after the big bang, 13.8 billion years ago, and to hunt for signs of life-supporting planets in our own galaxy.

We have delivered a Christmas gift to humanity,” said the European Space Agency’s director-general, Josef Aschbacher. “With this telescope, we are enabling new science. This was a special moment, nerve-racking but successful in the end.” This point was backed by Nasa’s administrator, Bill Nelson. “It’s going to give us a better understanding of our universe and our place in it: who we are, what we are, the search that’s eternal.”

The James Webb telescope began its journey into space at exactly 12.20 GMT when the solid fuel boosters of its huge Ariane 5 launcher were ignited. On top of a fiery plume of thick smoke, the rocket rose above the tropical rainforest that surrounds the Esa centre in Kourou, French Guiana, and within a minute had disappeared into the thick clouds overhead.

 

As Webb travels to its final destination, key parts of the observatory that were folded up to fit inside the rocket will need to unfurl in space. Some of the most nerve-racking stunts will come roughly five days after launch when the telescope’s huge multilayered sunshield is stretched out and its massive gold-coated primary mirror unfolds.

 

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