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The launch of the JWST. Photo: NASA TV

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope launched to space on Christmas Day, a major milestone for a telescope that promises to change scientists' understanding of the history of our universe.

Why it matters: The telescope, known as the Hubble Space Telescope's successor, is designed to capture the light of some of the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang, parse out the atmospheres of planets in other solar systems, watch stars evolve in clouds of dust and other tasks.

What's happening: The $10 billion JWST took flight from Kourou, French Guiana at 7:20am ET atop an Ariane 5 rocket.

  • "James Webb begins a voyage back to the birth of the universe," NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said upon liftoff.

Context: This is a huge moment for the scientists and engineers involved in the 20-plus-year endeavor to build and design the JWST.

  • The cost of the telescope ballooned over time as technical and budgetary hiccups led to years of delays that threatened to cancel the project.

What's next: Over the next few weeks — as it makes its way out to a point about 1 million miles from Earth — the telescope will start to unfurl, deploying its tennis court-sized sunshield, gold-coated mirrors and scientific instruments into the proper configuration.

  • "No one has ever before unfolded a telescope in space," JWST scientist Jane Rigby told Axios before launch. "What we're doing is necessary — astronomy simply cannot advance in some key areas until we build bigger telescopes, and that means telescopes that have to unfold."
  • Unlike the Hubble, the JWST won't be able to be serviced by crewed missions should anything go wrong because of its great distance from Earth.

Go deeper: NASA's next great space telescope has arrived

Go deeper

The most startling facts in 2021 climate report

An unsettling part of the human condition today is that the year you were born will most likely be the coolest year of your life, globally speaking.

By the numbers: Newly released climate data from NOAA, NASA and Berkeley Earth show that the planet has had an unbroken streak of 45 years of warmer than average temperatures.

Updated 12 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen co-opts Reaganomics phrase for new Davos speech

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a speech this week. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. needs to focus on increasing its productive potential, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told world leaders Friday, calling for what she terms "modern supply side economics."

Why it matters: She co-opted a phrase traditionally used by political conservatives to describe low-tax and deregulatory policies — and framed the Biden administration's initiatives as the best path forward to achieve greater national prosperity.