25 December 2021
James Webb telescope has left Earth on its mission to show
the first stars to light up the Universe.
The observatory was lifted skyward by an Ariane rocket from the
Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.
Watch the moment the
James Webb Space Telescope
Its flight to orbit lasted just under half an hour, with a signal
confirming a successful outcome picked up by a ground antenna at
Malindi in Kenya.
Webb, named after one of the architects of the Apollo Moon landings,
is the successor to the
Engineers working with the US, European and Canadian space agencies
have built the new observatory to be 100 times more powerful,
"Lift off from a tropical rainforest to the edge of time itself,
James Webb begins a voyage back to the birth of the Universe," said
American space agency (NASA) TV commentator Rob Navias at the moment
the rocket left the Earth.
Lift-off was eagerly awaited but accompanied also by a good deal of
Thousands of people worldwide have worked on the project
over the past 30 years, and even though the Ariane is a very
dependable vehicle - there are no guarantees when it comes to
An image taken from the top of the Ariane
as Webb separates to begin
the next phase
of its journey
Webb's launch is only the start of what will be a complex series of
initial activities over the next six months.
The telescope is being put on a path to an observing station some
1.5 million km beyond the Earth.
In the course of travelling to this location, Webb will have to
unpack itself from the folded configuration it adopted at launch -
like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.
This won't be easy, conceded NASA administrator Bill Nelson:
have to realize there are still innumerable things that have to work
and they have to work perfectly. But we know that in great reward,
there is great risk.
And that's what this business is all about.
that's why we dare to explore."
At the core of the new facility's capabilities is its 6.5m-wide
golden mirror. This is almost three times wider than the primary
reflector on Hubble.
The enlarged optics, combined with four super-sensitive instruments,
should enable astronomers to look deeper into space - and thus
further back in time - than ever before.
Rebecca Morelle explains
how the James Webb Space Telescope will work
A key target will be the epoch of the pioneer stars that ended the
darkness theorized to have gripped the cosmos shortly after
Bang more than 13.5 billion years ago.
It was the nuclear reactions in these objects that would have forged
the very first heavy atoms essential for life:
oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur.
Another overarching goal for Webb will be to probe the atmospheres
of distant planets.
This will help researchers gauge whether these
worlds are in any way habitable.
will see back in time
"We're going to be
entering a whole new regime of astrophysics, a new frontier; and
that is what gets so many of us excited about the James Webb
Space Telescope," said Heidi Hammel, a planetary astronomer and
an interdisciplinary scientist on the mission.
The unfurling process
takes about two weeks.
Webb's big mirror then has to be focused.
The 18 segments that form this reflector have little motors on the
back that will adjust the curvature.
"And then the
critical thing is that it all has to get very cold," explained
Mark Mark McCaughrean, senior science adviser with the European
"This telescope actually will be at minus 233 degrees Celsius.
Only then will it
stop glowing at the infrared wavelengths beyond the visible
where we want this telescope to work.
And only then will it be
able to take the sensitive pictures of the distant Universe
where the first galaxies were born, and of planets going around
So there's a long way
James Webb is so big
it had to be folded to fit in the nosecone
its launch rocket
'We'll get wonderful pictures from James Webb"