James Webb Telescope Settles Into Orbit 1 Million Miles Away, Hunt for Alien Life Begins

The James Webb Space Telescope arrived at its observation post 1 million miles from Earth on Monday on a mission to help astronomers "better understand the early days of the universe, peer at distant exoplanets and atmosphere and to answer long-scale questions such as how quickly the universe is expanding," according to Space.com.

The biggest, most powerful space telescope launched on Christmas Day from French Guinea is scanning atmospheres of alien worlds for possible signs of other life forms in the cosmos.

Astronomers have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets since 1995, according to NASA's SETI Institute. However, only a few have been photographed, and astronomers are hoping Webb will be able to photograph more. In the search for other life forms, Webb could be able to spot artificially produced gasses in the atmosphere, which would lead to more information regarding life on other planets.

Webb, a $10 billion observatory, fired rocket thrusters for nearly five minutes in order to successfully go into orbit around the sun and to arrive at its designated location, second Lagrange Point (L2), where the gravitational forces of the Earth and sun balance.

NASA confirmed the mission went as planned and flight controllers in Baltimore were "euphoric," according to the Associated Press.

"We're one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. "I can't wait to see Webb's first new views of the universe this summer."

James Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope arrived at its observation post 1 million miles from Earth on Monday. Above, Ariane 5 lifts off and deploys the Webb Telescope on December 25, 2021, in Kourou, French Guiana. Andrew Richard Hara/Getty Images

Astronomers will be able to use Webb's research to peer back further in time than previously done before. They will be able to see back 13.7 billion years, when the first stars and galaxies appeared.

At 1 million miles away, Webb is four times more distant than Earth's moon. A week and a half after its launch, Webb's sunshield, which is as big as a tennis court, opened. And a few days later, the gold-coated mirror, which is 2 feet across, unfolded.

Webb, which weighs 7 tons, always faces Earth's night side in order to keep the infrared detectors as frigid as possible, according to AP.

"Wow, what a ride this last month has been," said Amber Straughn, deputy project scientist for NASA.

Webb is considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, still in orbit 330 miles up. It is also too far away for emergency repairs. The Hubble received five surgeries, the first in 1993, which is more difficult for Webb, making its mission even more critical.

NASA created a website to track Webb and follow its journey, found at jwst.nasa.gov. There, followers can track the telescope's movements, find where it is in the moment, watch the launch videos and read the blog about Webb's story.