NASA's Most Powerful Telescope Ever Launches Successfully

While the billionaire space race increasingly crowds the stars with tech moguls and celebrities, NASA continues its scientific work. On Christmas morning, NASA launched its most powerful telescope ever. The James Webb Space Telescope launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket into space. The telescope will serve as NASA's primary observation point for the next decade. NASA announced the successful launch on Twitter, tweeting, "We have LIFTOFF of the @NASAWebb Space Telescope! At 7:20am ET (12:20 UTC), the beginning of a new, exciting decade of science climbed to the sky. Webb's mission to #UnfoldTheUniverse will change our understanding of space as we know it."

NASA launched the Webb from a European Space Agency spaceport in French Guiana. The ESA is looking at the Christmas launch as a holiday present. Following the launch, it tweeted, "😮 LIFTOFF of @esa_webb and @ariane5 #VA256 on 25 December 2021, at 12:20 GMT/13:20 CET, an awesome #Christmas present to the international @NASAWebb @csa_asc and @esa teams and to space science!!! #WebbFliesAriane"

After the launch, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressed gratitude towards the teams that worked hard to make the holiday launch happen. "This is a great day for planet Earth," Nelson said (via CNN). "Thanks to the team. You all have just been incredible. Over three decades, you produced this telescope that is now going to take us back to the very beginnings of the universe. We are going to discover incredible things that we never imagined."

Part of the Webb Telescope's mission is to observe the atmosphere of exoplanets (planets outside of Earth's solar system). Some exoplanets are potentially habitable. Studying them could reveal clues towards discovering life on other planets.

The telescope will also trace signals from some of the first galaxies to form after the big bang. These observations could answer questions about our solar system. The Webb will also turn inwards to study the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way's center.

NASA has been working on the Webb Telescope since 2004. Technical challenges and the pandemic both delayed the observatory's launch. It is finally complete with assistance and instruments from the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Don't expect news from the telescope too quickly. It'll take a month for the Webb to reach its orbit 1 million miles from Earth. It'll then go through a six-month commissioning process. Expect to see its first observations reported sometime in late 2022.