What We Learn from the Webb Telescope

What We Learn from the Webb Telescope
Webb image of star-forming region NGC 3324 in Carina Nebula

With all the distractions going on in the world, it is easy to miss perhaps the most remarkable engineering accomplishment of human history. A telescope launched on Christmas Day 2021 is now much further from Earth than the Moon is. The Webb Space Telescope consists of 18 hexagonal mirrors with a total area of 273 square feet (69.54 x 46.46 feet) and can see things in space that can’t be viewed from Earth’s surface. The cost to make the telescope and place it in space was 10 billion dollars, so is it worth the price? Yes, it is! What we learn from the Webb telescope tells us more about God.

More than 40 years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote a book titled Your God is Too Small. The first thing we learned from the Webb telescope is that the cosmos is much bigger than we can imagine. The telescope can see things that no optical device on Earth can. We live in a galaxy containing roughly 100 billion stars, and we know there are many other galaxies in space. Webb has shown us vast numbers of distant galaxies, and as we measure how far away they are, we see what the creation looked like billions of years ago.

Let me give you a simple explanation of what that means. If you travel to a place 100 miles away at 50 miles per hour, how long will it take to get there? The answer is two hours. When we measure how far away these galaxies are, we can tell when the light we see left them. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. Doing the same calculation, we know the light reaching the Webb telescope left those galaxies some 13 billion years ago. We are looking backward in time to near the beginning of creation.

The latest pictures from Webb show that these old galaxies are flat like a sheet of paper. We learn from the Webb telescope that the creator was molding and shaping galaxies into a form that would allow planets and, ultimately, life to exist. As we understand the creation process, we see power beyond what we can imagine. Like all scientific discoveries, that raises many new and exciting questions for us to study and understand. It further tells us how unique Earth is and raises an old question the ancients asked about God, “What is man that you are mindful of him” (Psalms 8:4).

— John N. Clayton © 2024