Nasa's giant James Webb Space Telescope launches on Christmas morning on mission to hunt down aliens

THE world's largest and most powerful space telescope was sent into space on Saturday in a major high-stakes quest.

Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope was launched on Christmas morning on a European Ariane rocket from New Guinea on a journey to try to find light from the first stars and galaxies.

After decades of planning, the seven-ton telescope will also be used to scout for signs of other life in the universe from its final destination some one million miles away.

The $10-billion observatory will be positioned more than four times beyond the moon after a journey that will take a month.

It will be another five months before its infrared eyes will be ready to start scanning the cosmos.

In order to begin looking for life, the telescope but first unfurl its enormous mirror and sun-shield.

The telescope is essentially a massive mirror that can use infrared to see way beyond what we've seen before.

It's the biggest and most complex thing of its kind.

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Once set up, the telescope is anticipated to be able to look back 13.7 billion years in time.

Nasa believes it should be able to see back in time to within 100 million years of the universe-forming Big Bang.

“It’s going to give us a better understanding of our universe and our place in it: who we are, what we are, the search that’s eternal,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson last week.

“When you want a big reward, you have to usually take a big risk," he added.

The main part of the James Webb space telescope is a gold-coated mirror, which is so huge it can't be sent into space in one piece.

Instead, it's formed of 18 hexagonal parts that will cleverly unpack and click together like a perfect puzzle once in place.

There's also a secondary mirror to bounce everything back to Webb's systems.

A sun shield protects everything it catches from the sun.

'NOTHING WE'VE DONE BEFORE'

Inside there are four key instruments to capture light from hundreds of millions of miles away.

This includes a camera to take pictures.

In order for it to work perfectly, hundreds of release mechanisms need to work "like nothing we’ve done before," said NASA program director Greg Robinson.

The kit will be able to see through dense dust clouds that cover distant planets.

Getting past this could help point towards life, but experts doubt we'll actually find aliens with it.

"It'll be able to do many things but I don't think that's on the list of objectives for the science that NASA has come up with," Caroline Harper, from the UK Space Agency, told The Sun.

"If you can analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets then you can look for molecules that might be needed for life or might indicate the presence of life but that's the closest we'll get to spotting little green men."

DECADES OF WORK

The date for the launch had been moved several times in the past before Christmas Day's successful flight.

Named after Nasa’s administrator during the 1960s, thousands of people from 29 countries have been working on it since the 1990s.

Last week, further technical issues almost scuppered the launch again and winds pushed the date back once more to Christmas.

“We launch for humanity this morning,” said Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel.

“After Webb, we will never see the skies in quite the same way.”

Nasa is hoping the telescope will be operational for ten years.

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