NASA said on Wednesday that the James Webb Space Telescope will launch on December 18, and astronomers hope it heralds a new era of discovery.
The US$10 billion (about Rs. 73,700 crore) observatory is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. It will be launched from a space port in French Guiana with an Ariane 5 rocket.
It is currently stored at the contractor Northrop Grumman’s facility in Redondo Beach, California, pending shipment.
Weber’s NASA program director Gregory Robinson said in a statement: “Weber is an exemplary mission and a symbol of perseverance.”
Researchers hope to use the largest and most powerful space telescope ever to look back at 13.5 billion years later to observe the first stars and galaxies formed hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang.
A key feature is that it can detect infrared light, because when the light from the first object reaches our telescope, it has moved to the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum due to the expansion of the universe.
Hubble, currently the main space telescope, has limited infrared capacity.
Astronomers also hope that the James Webb Space Telescope can accelerate the discovery of alien worlds.
The first planets orbiting other stars were discovered in the 1990s, and more than 4,000 exoplanets have now been confirmed.