NASA's James Webb Space Telescope launch; here's what next
Opening a new of astronomy, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope was launched by rocket early Saturday from the northeastern coast of South America. The unique Space Telescope promises to provide first glimpse of the universe as it existed when the earliest galaxies formed
The event was telecasted live on a joint NASA-ESA webcast with a countdown conducted in French. "From a tropical rain forest to the edge of time itself, James Webb begins a voyage back to the birth of the universe," a NASA commentator said as the two-stage launch vehicle, fitted with double solid-rocket boosters, roared off its launch pad into cloudy skies.
After a 27-minute, hypersonic ride into space, the 14,000-pound instrument was released from the upper stage of the French-built rocket about 865 miles above the Earth, and should gradually unfurl to nearly the size of a tennis court over the next 13 days as it sails onward on its own.
Live video captured by a camera mounted on the rocket's upper stage showed the Webb gliding gently away after it was jettisoned, drawing cheers and applause from jubilant flight engineers in the mission control center.
Flight controllers confirmed moments later, as the Webb's solar-energy array was deployed, that its power supply was working.
Here is all you need to know:
The Webb telescope will reach its destination in solar orbit 1 million miles from Earth - about four times farther away than the moon. And Webb's special orbital path will keep it in constant alignment with the Earth as the planet and telescope circle the sun in tandem.
Meanwhile, Webb's 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, orbits the Earth from 340 miles away, passing in and out of the planet's shadow every 90 minutes.
The telescope is named after man who oversaw NASA through most of its formative decade of the 1960s James Webb.
The telescope is about 100 times more sensitive than Hubble and is expected to transform scientists' understanding of the universe and our place in it.
Webb mainly will view the cosmos in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to gaze through clouds of gas and dust where stars are being born, while Hubble has operated primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.
That, astronomers say, will bring into view a glimpse of the cosmos never previously seen - dating to just 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set in motion the expansion of the observable universe an estimated 13.8 billion years ago.
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