It is a moment that has been brewing for decades. The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s premier space observatory of the next decade, has been successfully launched.

The telescope lifted off on an Ariane 5 rocket from the Europa spaceport in French Guiana at 7:20 am (Miami time).

The Webb telescope has endured years of delays, including a combination of factors brought on by the pandemic and technical challenges. But the world’s most powerful and complex space observatory will answer questions about our solar system, study exoplanets in new ways, and delve deeper into the universe than we have ever been able to.

The Webb will observe the atmospheres of exoplanets, some of which are potentially habitable, and could uncover clues in the ongoing search for life outside Earth.

The telescope comes equipped with a mirror that can extend 6.5 meters, an enormous length that will allow the mirror to collect more light from the objects it observes once the telescope is in space. The more light the mirror can catch, the more detail the telescope can see.

The mirror includes 18 gold-plated hexagonal segments, each 1.32 meters in diameter.

It’s the largest telescope NASA ever built, the agency said, but its size created a unique problem. The object was so large that it could not fit inside a rocket. So the NASA team designed the telescope as a series of moving parts that can be folded in origami style and fit within a 5-meter space for launch.

The Webb will act as an infrared detective, detecting light that is invisible to us and revealing regions of space that would otherwise be hidden, according to NASA.

Ball Aerospace optical technician Scott Murray inspects the telescope’s first gold primary mirror segment.

Since 2004, thousands of scientists, technicians and engineers from 14 countries have spent 40 million hours building the telescope, which includes instruments from the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency.

Now, the Webb is ready to help us understand the origins of the universe and begin to answer key questions about our existence, such as where we came from and if we are alone in the cosmos.

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