A new telescope may tell us about how the universe began.
Civilization as we usually define it began about 10,000 years ago. Egyptians lived in towns and cities 7,000 years ago. China was making engraved pottery at that time.
The homo species that is our lineage emerged about 2 million years ago in Africa.
The dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago after dominating the earth for at least 30 million years.
The earth and moon were formed about 4.5 billion years ago which is 4,500 million years ago.
The universe started about 14 billion years ago (14,000 million years) as is widely accepted by scientists. It started in a Big-Bang explosion.
Then galaxies of innumerable stars formed, and one of those stars became our sun. Then rocky objects or asteroids rotating around the sun collected to form planets including our earth.
In the past decades theoretical models of the Big-Bang have been put forward to explain the expanding universe and to match observations that have been made…..
The James Webb Space Telescope.
But there are no observations of the earliest time of the Big-Bang expansion. That info is missing, but not forever…
A new space telescope was launched on Christmas Day in 2021. It’s a successor to, and larger than, the famous Hubble telescope. It took 30 years to design and build.
The main mirror, about 20 feet across, consists of a bunch of smaller mirrors that are easier to manufacture. They collect the light and focus it on the small secondary mirror, which sends the light in a beam into the instruments that analyze the light.
The main mirror has to be protected from the sun’s light and heat using a sunshade the size of a tennis court.
Webb telescope goal #1.
Light was emitted by the Big-Bang when it started at 14 billion years ago. This light has traveled over 14 billion light years to reach earth, a vast distance, and therefore is very, very faint. Like the sound from a locomotive – the further it travels away, the fainter the sound gets.
The new telescope’s goal is to image the earliest objects to form after the Big-Bang.
These may be colossal stars in the process of grouping together to form the first galaxies.
Webb telescope goal #2.
A second goal is to study the atmospheres of distant planets, outside our Solar System, in the hope that signs of life might be detected.
Such planets, called exoplanets, have only been discovered in the past 30 years. How many exoplanets are there? Almost 5,000 have been discovered.
The Webb telescope will be able to probe the atmospheres of exoplanets – to see if they hold gases that might hint at the presence of plant life. For example, plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Such chemicals bestow signatures on light that passes through their atmosphere. The new telescope will be more sensitive to these signatures.
The big question is of course: is there life on another planet? Or are we truly unique in such an enormous universe?
Paul Davies in a book called The Goldilocks Enigma argues that our planet and its life are very unique. He bases his study by asking (and answering) questions like, If the earth’s distance from the sun were 10% smaller could life survive?
Another example: Davies argues that a nucleus contains protons and neutrons. If the neutron mass were just 1% less, isolated protons would be unstable and would decay, rather than neutrons, and no protons would mean no atoms and no chemistry and no life.
The existence of life as we know it depends delicately on many seemingly fortuitous features of the laws of physics and the structure of the universe.
So, maybe the Webb telescope can find evidence for biology on an exoplanet — and that would change the odds that we are unique and alone in the universe.
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The Gray Nomad ….. A new telescope may change our view of the human race and its origins.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
[Book of Psalms, chapter 8.]