NASA successfully launched its revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas day at 7:20 a.m. EST/4:20 a.m. PST. The telescope took off from an Ariane 5 rocket located at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
A joint effort with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, the Webb mission marks “the world’s largest and most complex space science observatory,” NASA said.
The launch took place at 7:49 a.m. EST/4:49 a.m. PST with the telescope riding on an Ariane 5 rocket before it takes off into deep space in order to study the universe’s most distant objects.
The Webb telescope will orbit at the second Lagrangian point L2 where it can avoid any disturbance from Earth's atmosphere, NASA said.
Last week, the European Space Agency announced that it successfully tested the telescope’s primary mirror in a clean room facility deep in the forests of northern Chile at an altitude of 2,664 meters (8,692 feet) above sea level. Rather than using helium or other gases to stay cold, this telescope will rely on a complex system of sun shields once it reaches its destination in deep space.
“The Webb telescope is the world's premier infrared space observatory of the next decade, and the culmination of almost 20 years of scientific research and development,” Dr Jonathan Tan from NASA said.
“NASA has worked with international partners across the world to assemble the Hubble Space Telescope's successor,” Mr Dwayne Brown, a NASA representative said.
“Now in the hands of NASA and ESA, this telescope will provide images of the universe that no human has seen before, using infrared light. The Webb telescope will help humanity solve some of its greatest mysteries. We are counting on both ESA and the NASA teams to pull this mission together.”
While the James Webb telescope will begin exploring space in 2018, it will be unable to start its initial scientific operations until about one month after the telescope has reached its permanent position at L2.