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UT Austin astronomer co-leading project using world's largest, most powerful space telescope

Astronomer Caitlin Casey is leading a project using the James Webb Space Telescope to help find answers about the origin of the universe.

AUSTIN, Texas — The biggest and most powerful telescope ever made was launched into space on Christmas Day and one researcher from the University of Texas at Austin is helping lead a research project using the telescope.

The James Web Space Telescope was launched from South America, and is currently on a long journey as it heads a million miles away with the goal of better understanding the origins of the universe.

Caitlin Casey, an astronomer with UT Austin, is co-leading a project using the telescope.

"My team has about nine days worth of time to stare at deep space with J.W. here," Casey said. "And what we're trying to do is to find the most distant galaxies that have ever been found."

Casey and her team worked for months in 2020 before submitting their project for review. The team will be granted nine days to use the telescope for their observations, which is more time than any other group. Casey said they hope to uncover the ancient mysteries of the universe and how it came to be, along with how Earth itself formed.

The telescope will be used as a window into the past, looking to reveal when and how the earliest stars and galaxies formed after the "Big Bang" about 13.5 billion years ago. It will also search for potential signs of habitability that may be present throughout the universe.

For Casey, receiving the answers about unknowns in space has been something she and her team have been waiting for. The first observations from the James Webb Space Telescope are expected to be taken in the summer of next year.

"We have been waiting for this for over 20 years. As long as I've been a professional astronomer," she said. "We're well on our way to getting data. So six months is a drop in the bucket compared to the years we've been waiting."

Watch the full interview with Casey here: 

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