Webb telescope to probe deeper than ever into universe

Liftoff of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, designed to probe farther than ever into the universe, has been delayed until Christmas Day at the earliest, due to poor weather at the launch site on South America's northeastern coast, the space agency said on Tuesday.

Webb mainly will view the cosmos in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to gaze through clouds of gas and dust where stars are being born, while its predecessor, the Hubble, has operated primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.

The new telescope's primary mirror - consisting of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-coated beryllium metal - also has a much bigger light-collecting area, enabling it to observe objects at greater distances, thus farther back into time, than Hubble.

That advance, astronomers say, will bring into view a glimpse of the cosmos never previously seen - dating back to just 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set in motion the expansion of the observable universe an estimated 13.8 billion years ago.

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