Happy December to one and all!
This month never ceases to remind me of how our ancestors looked up into the sky and wondered, as we do today, what is out there? They danced, celebrated, wrote poetry, and created mythology in order to feel that they were a part of the unexplained. Modern humans are not much different. Today’s year-end celebrations are current iterations of past festivals such as Saturnalia, yet, whether we refer to the past or present, the overriding theme is of humans trying to fit in, into the vastness of the universe.
And this very month, a mere few weeks after you read this (fingers crossed), an effort that stretches over two decades, and nearly 15 billion dollars, will finally launch into space. Of course, I am referring to the James Webb telescope. This almost unbelievably advanced instrument will be able to see in the infrared (AAA’s classes can certainly help you to brush up on your knowledge of the EM spectrum, if needed) back to almost the Big Bang. That’s right, you’re not reading incorrectly. Webb, along with partner observatories around the world, particularly in the Atacama Desert – which I highly recommend for everyone who is able to visit, to do so – will be able to look back at star and galaxy formations from 13 billion years ago. Considering the universe is approximately 13. 8 billion years old, that would be one heck of an achievement.
Scientists, and other participants, who helped bring Webb to life, have in many cases spent their entire careers on this singular achievement. And just as I remember being amazed the first time SpaceX re-landed a rocket, if you are not familiar with the method of which the Webb will be folded much like origami into the rocket that will be carrying it, look it up. And then perhaps even more impressively, how the Webb will unfold itself once it is in space. Keep in mind too, that Webb will be in a much higher orbit than that overachieving workhorse, the Hubble, and that humans will not be able to service the Webb once it is in place, as has been done many times with Hubble.
Starting to feel a drop of sweat on the back of your neck, as you realize what is at stake here? I, of course, have not even mentioned the countless countries, as well as professionals, from around the world, who have contributed to Webb, led by NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the European Space Agency (ESA). And the launch is showcased by the ESA built rocket which will be carrying it into space, from French Guyana.
This is what science does. It brings people from around the world together. It overcomes borders. And governments. It disregards the naysayers, and literally shoots for the stars.
We have come so far from our curious ancestors, but with each new revelation comes more questions. This is what drives us. As it should.
I hope that on December 22nd, everyone can stop whatever they are doing, and watch the Webb liftoff from Earth, on perhaps the most important mission humans have ever undertaken – to peel back another layer of the mystery of who we are.
Happy New Year,