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Davis Journal

To infinity and beyond

Aug 04, 2022 10:14AM ● By Peri Kinder

Nearly one million miles away from Earth, the James Webb Space Telescope is gazing into space with the intensity of a teenager watching TikTok. 

The most powerful observatory ever launched (Hubble orbits a measly 340 miles away from Earth), the JWST navigated to its location and deployed its mirrors, telescopes, solar panels and antennas, unfolding like a Transformer in the middle of space.

NASA (Nerding About Space Again) was unsurprisingly geeked about the first images from the JWST and organized a live event to reveal the pictures to the world. I’m an astronomy fangirl, so it made my nerdy heart happy to see the images unveiled on July 12 during the NASA production.

I couldn’t help but appreciate that Hollywood hadn’t produced the reveal show. It would have been completely different, with movie stars turning it into a literal song-and-dance. It would have included a Gorgeous Galaxy red carpet event before the Beautiful People, dressed in sequins and velvet, highlighted the space pictures “right after these messages.”

Instead of talking to actual astrophysicists, the Beautiful People would have interviewed actors like Matthew McConaughey and Tom Hanks, asking them what it was like portraying an astronaut in the movies.  

There would have been glitzy graphics, a soundtrack by Lizzo and brief glimpses of the space images before the cameras returned to the Beautiful People so they could talk about how much they liked planets. 

Thankfully, NASA did the whole program themselves. It was like someone handed the high school astronomy club an iPhone and told them to prepare a science project about the Webb telescope. They didn’t use professional spokespeople. They weren’t dressed in formal wear. It was just astrophysicists literally (yes, literally) bouncing with excitement as the world saw the photos for the first time.

There was even a technical glitch when NASA tried to connect to scientists in Canada but couldn’t get through. NASA can relay images from billions of light-years away, but can’t connect with colleagues in Montreal. Stupid Zoom calls. 

Astronomers explained the images sent from the JWST that included dying stars and black holes and cosmic cliffs and binary stars, which I don’t think are legal in Utah. It showed a universe teeming with galaxies never seen before. At least not by people on Earth. 

The telescope can see through space dust, asteroid rubble and alien trash to get the clearest pictures ever created. Scientists once thought there was only one galaxy in the universe, but one JWST image showed thousands of galaxies in a teensy bit of sky. Hopefully, this will prove to politicians that the world does not revolve around them. 

Webb’s mission is to search for light from the first stars and galaxies that formed the universe after the Big Bang, unless you don’t believe in the Big Bang. In that case, you can sit next to those who think the moon landing was fake, the earth is flat, evolution is a fraud, the Mars mission is bogus, the moon is an alien spacecraft, that it’s NASA’s job to create space hoaxes and we’ve never crossed the Van Allen Belt.

But if you’re a star-nerd, like me, watching something so vast is mind-boggling. We’re a tiny, blue marble floating through the enormity of space, doing our best not to fall into a black hole or get vaporized by a meteor. 

So many evolutionary steps had to happen for us to even be here. What a rare gift. Let’s stop messing it up. λ