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The James Webb Telescope Gives Insignificance New Resonance

Great News! It works! Stunning Images! Free and can purchase overpriced!

The James Webb Space Telescope gives astronomers, physicists, and poets, years’ worth of work. We saw the first pictures in July, mere months ago, but the World didn’t do a grand tap dance. No confetti. No awe-struck countries glued to their screens, sighing a united sigh.

We didn’t all pause, breath held, and applaud the magnificence of the news. Perhaps we were too sweaty, looking for air conditioning or a pool, stuck on doom scrolling and wondering when he was gonna get to wear orange, the Big Orange One.

Or maybe we were on vacation, zoned out on margaritas, and occasionally yelling at the kids who were running in and out of the waves, or floating on a slowly leaking air mattress.

The images are magnificent!

NASA has free wallpaper and images for you! Or you can go to Shutterstock and buy the same picture for $79. Hey, it was a lot of tax dollars ($10 billion of them) to build and send that thing up there, unrelated businesses might as well cash in.

If you are old enough to remember, the Hubble telescope was initially a big dud. The subcontractor didn’t grind the mirror to the right thousandth of an inch, and astronauts needed to make a repair visit some years later. I read the technical explanations in detail, but it sounds like they refitted some high-precision light adjusting trifocals and let the Hubble see the detail, as opposed to the cheap eyeglass readers they got at Walmart (for inflated and ever-increasing prices).

The Hubble launch followed the Challenger disaster so NASA wasn’t looking great. It’s hard to celebrate much when the years-later fix works, but that’s what happened for Hubble.

In the 1980s NASA launched the space shuttle program and then increased the number of launches and public relations programs to keep the American public interested. The culmination of that public relations/educational effort was sending a teacher into space.

The teacher-in-space program was rolled out with lots of publicity in the lead-up to launch. The tragedy was magnified by the many school children watching television sets as that rocket plume divided and plummeted to earth instead of spearing off into space.

The Challenger tragedy contributed to an emphasis on non-human space exploration.

But the Webb! Wonderful.

I wonder if we were too focused on the near-miss loss of democracy and climate change dystopia spooling out to anticipate the Webb. Maybe NASA doesn’t hype as much before the project is ready, recognizing that success and failure can be measured in thousandths of inches.

Besides, Webb is a much better name than Hubble.

James Webb was the administrator of NASA during its early glory years, 1961–67.

Edwin Hubble was an astrophysicist who came up with the Big Bang Theory, among other accomplishments. The Big Bang Theory led to the Big Bang comedy television series, which is irrelevant.

The Webb makes one think of the huge dot-to-dot universe out there, no empty space, just bazillions, and bazillions of stars, the start of spacetime, life somewhere. If you want to feel insignificant, contemplate how much bigger our understanding is, and is becoming, of how vast spacetime and the universe is.

Because the Webb telescope is further out in space, and the mirrors are bigger, and it “sees” in infrared (heat), we can now see galaxies further away than the old 13 billion light-year standard. Even the Big Bang theory may be understood in new ways because of the information the Webb telescope gathers. Astronomers can see earlier galaxies in the development of the universe and are surprised by how well organized they are.

I mean, I don’t have any idea what that picture above shows us, but I do know it is magnificent.

Maybe some people are hanging out too much in the Metaverse. Why get excited about Real Life when you can construct avatars nothing like you and live in a world nothing like yours?

I don’t understand virtual reality, but I don’t understand reality, either. Escape I understand.

It makes us want to sing a Joni Mitchell song:

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.

Songwriters: Joni Mitchell, Woodstock lyrics © Crazy Crow Music

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3 Responses

  1. SingingFrogPress
    | Reply

    I love this piece too. And so appreciate how you come to rest in Joni Mitchell’s lyrics- “We are stardust” thanks!

  2. Vicki
    | Reply

    Especially love the Joni Mitchell throwback!

  3. janesalisbury
    | Reply

    Love this!

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