Written by Jay Watson

You don’t have to be a space buff or even a casual Star Trek fan to be mesmerized by the images recently released by NASA.

The stunning images of star clusters and other celestial phenomena are made possible by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which was launched on Christmas Day 2021 and began operating in July after traveling a million miles from Earth.

In one infrared image, which shows a tiny slice of the universe — about the size of a fingertip when held up to the sky — the heavens sparkle with thousands of never-before-seen galaxies. Other NASA images have shown nebulae, black holes and dying stars.

It boggles the mind when you see these pictures and imagine the many solar systems and planets in each of the distant galaxies. And to know the JWST image is a tiny sample of the universe, the proverbial drop of water in the cosmic ocean.

The images also represent a deep look into the past, as the light detected by the telescope traveled billions of years to reach our galaxy.

The telescope is named after the late James Webb (1906-92), a NASA administrator during the “space race” of the 1960s. He was appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to rebuild the fledgling agency into one that could land men on the moon and return them safely to Earth — all by the end of the decade.

“The space program in the 1960s was driven by just one mission: get to the moon and do it before the Soviets beat us to it,” explains Jim Webb of Hopewell, son of James Webb.

“My father insisted, however, that in doing so, the nation should make every effort to seize the moment and demonstrate to the world what a democratic system of government can achieve, and to prepare the United States for undisputed leadership in science and technology for the rest of the century and beyond.” he said.

Amazingly, NASA and the 400,000 engineers, scientists, technicians, managers, corporate partners, university students and others who worked under Webb’s leadership accomplished this task in seven and a half years.

“The moon landing on July 20, 1969 was considered the greatest engineering and scientific feat in human history,” noted Jim, an artist.

According to Webb’s vision, winning the race to the moon was just the beginning. There was still much to learn about our solar system and far beyond.

Planning for the Super Space Telescope began in the early 1990s. In 2002, NASA requested and received permission from Patsy Webb to name the telescope after her husband.

It’s hard to top the moon landing, but the James Webb Space Telescope will have a lasting impact, shedding light on the origins of the universe.

“The James Webb Space Telescope is considered by many to be the most audacious and complex engineering and scientific instrument ever created by mankind,” said Jim. “Thus, it can be argued that the chosen name is quite appropriate.

“Although my father never sought attention, I have no doubt that he would be proud of the many thousands, both inside and outside of NASA, who created this marvel of a ‘time machine’ that captured the imagination of the world, from schoolchildren to the most experienced astrophysicists and cosmologists – and will continue to do so for decades to come.”

Rutgers University astrophysicist Kristen McQueen, who had early access to data from the James Webb Space Telescope, also noted a new fascination with space.

“Although JWST is intended for use by professional astronomers, what we learn about the universe through JWST is intended for all of us,” she told Rutgers Today. “Thus, engaging people of all ages and professions in science by demonstrating JWST’s capabilities is a critical part of the mission’s success.”

The public’s interest in space is likely to increase even more in the coming weeks.

On Nov. 15, the uncrewed Artemis I mission launched into lunar orbit, potentially setting the stage for NASA’s next attempt to send astronauts to the moon. Artemis I is not the only lunar mission this year.

NASA’s CAPSTONE spacecraft arrived at the Moon on November 13 after launching in June and is now in orbit to collect data for the future space station.

South Korea’s first robotic space probe, Danuri, was launched in August and is scheduled to arrive in lunar orbit in mid-December.

And the private Japanese company ispace aims to land a SpaceX rocket with lunar rover on the moon.

Has this “search for new frontiers” ignited your passion for space? If so, there’s a lot to enjoy from Earth on a clear night in the “dark sky” region, away from light pollution, including planets, constellations, galaxies, meteor showers, and more.

New Jersey has several great astronomy clubs, including the New Jersey Astronomical Association, Princeton Amateur Astronomers, Cranford Amateur Astronomers, Skyland Star Gazers of East Hanover, Ship Hill Astronomical Association of Boonton, Amateur Astronomers of North -West Jersey of Blairstown, Montclair North Jersey Astronomical Society, Morris Museum Astronomical Society, South Jersey Astronomical Club, Toms River Area Astronomical Society, and Willingboro West Jersey Astronomical Society.

These clubs sponsor star watches and star parties to encourage the public to enjoy views of the night sky through powerful telescopes. Some are in observatories.

Looking into space makes us look back at our Earth. It is staggeringly amazing that even with these clear views into space and into the past, our planet remains our only evidence of life. Our global moral imperative should be to do everything we can to protect this place for as long as we can.

To learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope and see the incredible images, go to https://webb.nasa.gov/

Jay Watson is co-executive director of The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey, Far Hills.

Source link