The Webb Telescope: Unveiling new wonders of God’s cosmosWritten by Subby Szterszky
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With the first images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the universe has gotten bigger and more beautiful than we’d ever imagined. Naturally that beauty and vastness was already there before the JWST trained its infrared eye on it, waiting to be discovered. But from time to time, God loves to pull back the veil, allowing us to see new wonders of his cosmos.
And new wonders there are, no doubt about that. The JWST images reveal galaxies and stars that are farther, fainter and older than any previously seen. They display nebulae and other familiar heavenly bodies in unprecedented clarity and detail.
Looking at these spectacular images, we’re led to wonder: Just how vast is our universe? How many stars and galaxies does it contain? What kinds of variety and grandeur are yet to be revealed? Will we ever get to experience all of it? Most crucial of all for followers of Jesus, what does it say about our God who created such a cosmos?
A sharper, stronger eye on the cosmos
For decades, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has provided spectacular images of the cosmos that earlier generations could only have dreamed of. The Webb Telescope, launched in late 2021, was designed to be a successor and complement to the Hubble.
While the Hubble is in low Earth orbit, the Webb is 1.5 million kilometres from the Earth, about five times as far as the Moon, orbiting in a gravitationally stable spot known as Lagrange Point 2 (L2). This distance from Earth’s heat gives Webb’s infrared imaging technology the super-cold environment it needs to function. Unlike visible light, infrared imaging can penetrate interstellar dust clouds to see stars and planets hidden behind or inside them. With its array of gold-plated hexagonal mirrors that resemble a honeycomb, Webb can peer at objects that are dimmer, cooler and farther than any observed before.
The results thus far have been breathtaking. Webb’s first deep-field image, showing thousands of galaxies within a hairbreadth sliver of the visible sky, reveals a multitude and variety of objects barely hinted at in the earlier Hubble view of the same starfield. The depth of texture and detail revealed in Webb’s image of the Cosmic Cliffs, a star-forming region of the Carina Nebula, makes it look like a diaphanous vista of mountains and valleys shot through with stars under a brilliant night sky. Nebulae and galaxies of every shape and colour, some with cartwheel spokes, some with luminescent halos they share with each other, dance and collide across Webb’s gallery of images.
The Webb Telescope will allow scientists to gaze farther into the vast depths of space than they ever have before. They’ll be able to observe the oldest and farthest stars and galaxies and study their life cycles. Webb will make it possible to explore and learn more about other worlds in our solar system and far beyond. In short, it will provide a window through which we can peer deeper into the mysteries of the cosmos than at any time in history.
God unveils his mysteries and wonders
Of course, God is the master of his mysteries, of how and when and to whom he reveals them. Three millennia ago, his servant David looked up at the night sky with nothing but his naked eye and wrote that the heavens declare the glory of God. Four centuries ago, Galileo turned his simple telescope to the heavens and discovered four large moons circling Jupiter, thus changing the way we understand the universe. In 2019, computer scientist Katie Bouman led the development of an algorithm that made possible the first ever image of a supermassive black hole. And now the Webb Space Telescope, a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, is offering panoramas of the heavens that David could never have imagined.
At every step, God is the one who inspires us to look up at his heavens and see his glory reflected there. He’s also the one who gives us the wisdom and materials to create technology that allows us to study and understand more and more of his cosmos, unveiling its wonders a little at a time.
As we do so, we’re like children on Christmas morning unwrapping the gifts of our Heavenly Father – except these gifts never run out. Each one is more beautiful, mysterious and wonderful than the last. If the heavens reflect God’s glory, then beauty, mystery and wonder are obvious facets of that glory.
Embracing new vistas of God’s glory
The early images from Webb have already raised questions and revealed things no one expected to see. They may even lead to revisions of some details in our current understanding of the universe. Rather than being a threat to either faith or science, this is in fact what both would anticipate. God has created a fantastic cosmos and he invites us to explore and appreciate its wonders. He gives us the push through his Word, and by providing us the means to draw back the veil from his creation, bit by tantalizing bit.
History up to the present is filled with men and women of science who are also men and women of faith. Contrary to the secular claim that science has demystified creation and removed the need for God, these women and men testify that their faith in God fuels their research and their passion for discovery. The more they learn about the mysteries and wonders of the universe, the more they realize how little we know and how much there is yet to discover. This in turn drives them to an expanding awe and worship of their Creator.
The images from the Webb Telescope are a marvel for anyone to see. For followers of Jesus, these spectacular pictures reflect the glory of our God to a degree our brothers and sisters in the past may never have conceived. We’re overwhelmed with gratitude that the God who made these wonders loves us and gave himself for us in the person of Jesus so that we might be his daughters and sons and enjoy him forever.
The Psalms urge us, over and over, to observe God’s wondrous works, to think about them, share them with others and delight in them. Our God invites us to embrace the beauties of his cosmos and to dive into its mysteries and wonders. Through God’s providence, the Webb Telescope images offer a portal into a journey of discovery that can lead us to appreciate his glory, perhaps as never before.
Image source: NASA
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2022 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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