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This amazing HD video is the last view we'll ever have of the James Webb Space Telescope

When the James Webb Space Telescope's mission first began on Dec. 25, it was already time for people on Earth to say goodbye to the observatory.

A new video from the European Space Agency shows the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope deploying from the Ariane 5 rocket that carried it into space, all in glorious ultra-HD resolution. In just three minutes, you'll see Webb slowly floating away from its rocket stage and unfurling its solar panels.

The separation marked the first major stage in Webb's month-long journey to a stable gravitational area called sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 (L2), which allows the spacecraft to "park" using minimal fuel. 

Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb is not designed to be serviced by astronauts in space. The telescope will rely on infrared observations, which requires it to be far away from Earth (some 930,000 miles, or 1.5 million kilometers) to minimize stray light from interfering with its work. 

Live updates: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope mission
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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope separates from its Ariane 5 rocket with the bright blue Earth in the background in this view captured after its launch on Dec. 25, 2021. (Image credit: Arianespace/ESA/NASA)

Webb's one-way journey to L2 will thus allow it to perform work in studying the early universe, among other items. Along the way to its distant destination, Webb nearly flawlessly completed the first major stage of deployment Tuesday (Jan. 4), which was opening and tensioning its sunshield as a further measure to protect its infrared work. Then on Wednesday the telescope successfully deployed its secondary mirror.

NASA has an approximate deployment schedule in mind as it gets Webb ready for work, but the schedule has flexibility since it is dependent on ground commands. That allows engineers to make pauses or adjustments as required to work out anything unexpected, such as a couple of minor issues Webb encountered just before sunshield tensioning that were quickly resolved.

An animation shows the final planned orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope around Lagrange point 2, or L2. (Image credit: NASA)

Getting the observatory ready for work will take at least six more months, and includes other major items such as getting the mirrors aligned. Webb will then perform a set of test observations and early science as it completes its commissioning work later this year, although the first few targets have not yet been revealed.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the ESA video of the James Webb Space Telescope's separation was in 4K resolution. It is in standard HD resolution. 

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.