A Galactic Perspective

Image from NASA

Hi, all.

A couple of hours ago, President Biden unveiled the first image taken by NASA’s Webb telescope, which launched this past December and then reached its orbit location 940,000 miles away about a month later, where it slowly deployed and readied itself to take photos. And today, we got the first sneak-peek of an image, with the promise of the full release of the first batch of images tomorrow. 

The image depicts an array of galaxies as they were 4.6 billion years ago, or just 600 million years after the Big Bang. Though thousands of galaxies are contained in this first snapshot, the patch of sky that the image covers is about the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground, leaving an inconceivable amount of sky and universe left to explore. During the press conference, the chief of NASA, Bill Nelson, said, “We are going to be able to answer questions that we don’t even know what the questions are yet.” 

The sheer size of the universe, both physically and temporally, as revealed by this image is just staggering. Inconceivable, really. And our ability to peer into those other worlds is also pretty mind-blowing. 

From a climate perspective, this intense interest in deep space may seem like a distraction and the resources poured into this project a waste when we consider the immense challenges we face here on Earth. When the NASA chief mentioned how this telescope could potentially help us investigate the habitability of other worlds, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to want to waive your arms and remind him that the habitability of this world should be our main concern. When the president talked about seeing into the past further than we’ve ever seen before with this telescope, perhaps a part of you wanted to remind him that, actually, we need to be considering the future at this moment, not what all those little atoms were getting up to 13 billion years ago.

BUT that hot take is maybe just a little too hot. There’s also something strangely hopeful about this image of SMACS 0723, something strangely comforting in the universe being incomprehensibly big, something heart-warming about our species’s curiosity and capacity for wonderment. 

The narratives of space exploration loom large in our nation’s collective consciousness, much larger than current narratives about climate change or environmental (in)justices. But maybe we can channel some of this “Holy cow, isn’t this cool?!” energy into the way we talk about and hear about climate innovations, which can include impressive technological breakthroughs, but also new political and social ideas (like what these states are up to). 

I’m not saying the Webb telescope is going to solve all of our problems (far from it), but I think there’s something in there about it being a good reminder to take care of our little corner of one small speck of the universe. 

On that note, in other climate movement goings-on,

Thanks for reading. Til next week!

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