Recently, NASA released a selection of images gained by the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). They are visually stunning and are providing astrophysics with material that may shake the field to its roots. The images from JWST show galaxies that are more than 13 billion light years away, from when the universe was only a few hundred million years old. That means the light that the telescope is seeing was seven or eight billion years old before our Earth was born.
There is a lot here worth thinking about. We have no idea if light is a living thing or dead, so far as we can tell light is just a form of energy, and the brilliant stars and galaxies the NASA images show are amazingly complex nuclear furnaces, which as far as we know are soulless and dead. Given the sheer immensity of the universe, it’s extremely likely that some of the light has come from galaxies that have some stars with solar systems like our own and planets habitable for life forms something like our own. But we do not know and given the immense distances, probably cannot ever know.
There are other images closer to home. Space probes from Earth have taken photos of our planet, and some of them show a lonesome blue dot. Imagine a photo the size of the screen you are reading this on, and you look at a period at the end of a sentence. That tiny dot, like this:is how the Earth looks from deeper in space.
That tiny blue dot contains the oceans, all 8 billion of us humans. It contains all the silverback gorillas, all the ruby-throated hummingbirds, all the Blue whales, all the grandmothers who bake apple pies, all the grey wolves, all the kangaroos, all the elephants, all the rainclouds, all the rose gardens, all the graveyards, all the libraries, all the battlefields, all the ships on the seas, all of the blue skies, all of our paintings and monuments and dancing and music.
That tiny blue dot contains all of our pleasures, all of our miseries, all of our hatreds, all of our families, all of our friends. That tiny dot has been the site of all the dinosaurs, all the fish, all the humans and all the frogs and all the dogs and cats that have ever lived. That tiny dot has been the scene of all of our wars and all the plagues and all the smiles and all the love in the entire history of humanity. It’s where the Egyptians raised up the pyramids, where the Polynesians found tiny islands by reading the stars, where the Chinese built the Great Wall and built civilizations, where Africans were stolen and forced to work in sugar cane fields under a cruel sun.
That tiny blue dot is our only home, home to all of us. The skeptics, the philosophers, the teachers, the loving mothers, the alcoholics, the abused, the inventers, the bankers, the explorers,the frazzled and the eloquent and the sick and the lame and the lovers. All of us, all on that tiny blue dot.
Our tiny blue dot has one big thing that may be the most amazing thing in the universe: life. That and this place, this planet of ours, that’s all we’ve got. Maybe it’s time we started thinking about what that means.
Deep knowledge, every day.
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