A Telescopic View of Hope
Terry H. Schwadron
July 14, 2022
The astonishment of seeing further and farther into our universe wealth through the start of incoming images from the James Webb space telescope is doing more than showing off scientific research as it is happening.
The display of space images speak of possibilities of life itself, of our essential human curiosity, of our human humbleness — all qualities that clash so discordantly with the everyday politics and conflict that are marking our times.
This is a distinctly alternative, optimistic view that we are getting from the years of detailed engineering, cosmological, communications and space technologies. In a way, it is a triumphant reminder that Science can not only teach us — in this case about billions of years of our planetary development — but can inspire. In a single image probably the size of a grain of universal sand, we see stars and galaxies in motion and the breadth of nature itself.
Anyone hungry for good news need go no further than what this launch and reliance of an advanced space telescope can do to unite worldwide concerns about who we are and how we got here. The reveal of selected space images taking more than 4.5 billion years to arrive in a form we can receive is an open invitation to spend time, money and effort to learn, rather than to repeat the relative flat-earth understandings about planetary science that we prefer to repeat.
Think of what that might mean if we would only look at science for information about public health, climate change and living in an environment that we continue to trash.
The specific images selected for display on Tuesday showed a star-filled “deep-field” image of just how far back the telescope can see, a color-enhanced view of the death of a star, an image of a spreading nebula, one capturing five fully developing galaxies, and information that allows us to understand more about the black holes that are outside the star fields.
In introducing the displays, President Joe Biden noted that “We can see possibilities no one has ever seen before. We can go places no one has ever gone before.”
Indeed, more than what has been learned from examining select, enhanced images, the message was that with the right tool and an open mind, Science is reminding us to re-learn what we think we know.
It is worth listening to those with better scientific understanding to determine the kind of astronomical knowledge is being opened, but the lessons to the rest of we earth-bound civilians is that there is hope in possibility — possibility of finding life on other planets, of the birth and death of stars and whole galaxies, of the very wonders of nature.
The quality of the detail absolutely invites questions about what we are seeing and how it changes what we thought had been true.
“Setting stunning space pictures aside, the bulk of the James Webb Space Telescope’s most profound scientific work — the where-do-we-come-from, are-we-alone stuff — will probably involve little squiggles on graphs of a planet orbiting a distant star,” The New York Times noted.
Showmanship and Illusion, Too
Some of the shared images reflect human illusion, since they are enhanced, compiled translations of the telescope data down to the pixel level. Painstaking efforts were made to provide color enhancements, as well the appropriate showmanship to make the displays entertaining.
The NASA reveal was thankfully apolitical. It provided a delightful deflection from the daily dose of bad news about what we humans, whether American or global citizens, are wreaking on one another in the name of getting ahead.
The big takeaway is that we are a speck in a universe of universes.
How big and overwhelming important could our current-day concerns be considering the billions of years of natural developments? How quickly might our minds readjust to a different kind of thinking to consider all of what ails us from a view just as far away? What new possibilities are open to us if we change our perspective.
Thank you NASA, engineers and Science for reminding ourselves of our place among the stars.