The James Webb Space Telescope

On Christmas Eve the James Webb Space Telescope was launched by an Ariane rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. The $10bn telescope is on a mission to show the first stars to light up the Universe. It is the successor to the Hubble telescope and is 100 times more powerful. Thousands of people from the US, European and Canadian space agencies have been working for 30 years on the project. As the rocket left earth one commentator said, “Lift off from a tropical rainforest to the edge of time itself, James Webb begins a voyage back to the birth of the Universe.”

Over a period of 6 months the James Webb telescope will be put on a path to an observing station 1.5 million km beyond the Earth. A key target is the epoch of the pioneer stars that ended the darkness thought to have gripped the cosmos shortly after the Big Bang more than 13.5 billion years ago. The nuclear reactions in these objects would have forged the very first heavy atoms essential for life. The telescope will probe the atmospheres of distant planets to help researchers gauge whether these worlds are in any way habitable.

Reading about this exciting project reminded me of the opening words of the book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons, and days and years, and give light on the earth.’ God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. And God saw that it was good.”

I was also reminded of the Apostle John’s words about Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”