The historic mission of the James Webb Space Telescope begins
The $10 billion James Webb telescope has launched on a mission to reveal the earliest stars that illuminated the Universe.
An Ariane rocket launched from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana carried the observatory into the sky.
It took just under half an hour to reach orbit, with a signal indicating a successful landing picked up by a base station near Malindi, Kenya.
Webb is the successor to the Hubble telescope, which was named after one of the architects of the Apollo moon landings.
The new observatory, however, was designed by engineers in collaboration with the US, European, and Canadian space agencies to be 100 times more powerful.
Lift-off was eagerly anticipated, but it was also fraught with apprehension. Thousands of individuals from all around the world have contributed to the project over the last 30 years, and while the Ariane is a very reliable vehicle, there are no guarantees with rockets.
The 6.5m-wide golden mirror lies at the heart of the new facility’s capabilities. This is over three times the size of Hubble’s primary reflector.
Astronomers should be able to see deeper into space and thus further back in time than ever before, thanks to the larger optics and four super-sensitive pieces of equipment.
The epoch of the pioneer stars, which is thought to have ended the darkness that engulfed the cosmos just after the Big Bang 13.5 billion years ago, will be a significant focus.
The initial heavy atoms necessary for life—carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulphur—would have been formed by nuclear reactions in these objects.
Webb’s long-term goal is to study the atmospheres of faraway worlds. This will aid scientists in determining whether or not these worlds are habitable in any way.
The introduction of Webb is just the beginning of a lengthy series of introductory activities over the next six months.
The telescope is being placed on a course that will take it 1.5 million kilometres beyond the Earth’s surface.
Webb will have to unpack itself from the folded structure it took during launch in order to reach this place.