The world's largest and most powerful space telescope has blasted off on a high-stakes quest to behold light from the first stars and galaxies.
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope rocketed away Saturday from French Guiana in South America. A European Ariane rocket provided the Christmas morning lift.
The 30-minute launch sequence went off largely without a hitch.
"I want to congratulate the team on this incredible achievement — Webb's launch marks a significant moment not only for NASA, but for thousands of people worldwide who dedicated their time and talent to this mission over the years," said Thomas Zurbuchen the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Webb's scientific promise is now closer than it ever has been. We are poised on the edge of a truly exciting time of discovery, of things we've never before seen or imagined."
Webb is now hurtling toward its destination 1 million miles away from the surface of the Earth. It will take a month to get there and another five months of commissioning before it begins to return images to Earth.
NASA partnered with space agencies in Europe and Canada to build and launch the new telescope.
NASA says the four infrared imaging instruments on the telescope will allow researchers to study far-away "celestial objects with much greater clarity than ever before."
The $10 billion observatory is intended as the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope. The 30-year-old Hubble has experienced several software problems in recent years, leaving it unavailable for long stretches.