Like many, I’m impressed – totally inadequate description – by the pictures from the James Webb Space Telescope. But long before that, I was wowed by the very process.
Back in December 2021, a segment of 60 Minutes explained the intricacies of just getting the mirror launched.
And as this article in Science stated: “The launch of the $10 billion instrument did not end the tension. To unfurl its giant sunshield, swing six of the 18 segments in the 6.5-meter-wide mirror into position, and extend the secondary mirror on its booms, engineers had to navigate some 300 steps, any one of which could have doomed the mission.”
The fact that these folk had the wherewithal to do it right the first time – because there would be NO do-over – is remarkable.
Popular Mechanics covered this topic a lot. “On January 24, the $10 billion spacecraft conducted the last of its three course-correction burns, placing it into orbit around the second Sun-Earth Lagrange Point (L2), a gravitationally semi-stable location in space aligned with Earth and the sun.
“The five-minute-long maneuver marked the final step in a months-long journey (not to mention decades’ worth of delays), which included a number of hair-raising moments: a tedious boat ride through the Panama Canal, its launch from French Guiana’s Kourou spaceport on Christmas morning last year, and a series of complicated mid-flight unfolding procedures to name a few.’
What is this L2 thing?
“L2 is the perfect perch from which to survey the stars.
“It [took] the observatory roughly 180 days to complete its halo-like orbit around the L2 point—the diameter of this orbit is roughly one million miles, approximately the same distance L2 is from Earth. Because Webb will be in lockstep with our planet as it races around the sun, it will be able to survey the entire sky over the course of a year. (At any given time, it can see about 1/3 of the cosmos.)”
Of course, it does.
And what does that mean?
Popular Mechanics: “NASA’s first fully focused images from the James Webb Space Telescope gaze into the origins of the universe and examine exoplanets that could harbor alien life. The… telescope’s sensors scrutinize targets near and far, from a galactic arm of our own Milky Way to never-before-seen galaxies being born in the deepest reaches of space. Its spectrograph has also divined the chemistry of another planet’s atmosphere from more than 1,000 light-years away, finding a gas giant called WASP-96b hazed with clouds of gaseous water. The resulting images and data showcase the telescope’s unparalleled versatility.
“It’s a moment of triumph for scientists around the world, who now have a groundbreaking tool to aim at humanity’s most existential mysteries. But it’s also a victory for the flight operations teams who shepherded the telescope through the first critical weeks of its mission.”
But what does it ALL mean?
Kelly writes, “Darkness doesn’t last, but science and knowledge do!” Hank Green addresses, in four minutes, the feelings of those who feel particularly small after the discovery. Not specifically addressing the Webb telescope, John Green tries to answer, Why Do Things Exist?
For me, it codifies something I’ve been wondering about since at least the 1970s. There must be many other places where life, as we understand it – or maybe DON’T understand – must exist out there. Maybe, God, or Whoever, keeps running the same experiment to see if They finally get it right. Will people, and I use the term loosely, live in harmony?
Or will they obliterate each other and themselves with war, violence, climate change, and starvation? Those things are interrelated, of course. Perhaps Whoever is trying to figure out how to allow free will and still get it right.
Maybe Their first take was that there would be no free will, perhaps idyllic but boring as heck. There was no music, art, or literature because there was no need.
What do the discoveries mean to YOU, if anything? Maybe you think it was a colossal waste of time and money, which I would vigorously dispute.