Flashlights in the cosmic cave

New telescopes offer dazzling celestial views, further pointing to a reality ordered on principle and law.

The galaxy NGC 7727 was born from the merger of two galaxies that started around a billion years ago. At its center, two supermassive black holes are spiraling toward each other.

Earlier this week the European Southern Observatory published a new image captured by its Very Large Telescope in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. It shows two galaxies merging in the constellation Aquarius. At the center of this massive swirl of stars and dust is the closest pair of black holes to Earth, drawing toward each other with irresistible attraction.

If you missed the photo, just look up. The black holes will collide into each other in 250 million years – a mere cosmic blink of the eye.

That metaphor is only partly a jest. When Galileo pointed a telescope at Jupiter in 1610 and discovered its moons, he was looking back in time 36 minutes (the interval it takes for light to travel the distance between Earth and its giant neighbor). “I give thanks to God,” he wrote, “who has been pleased to make me the first observer of marvelous things.”

Now a new age of space exploration is making all of humanity joint observers of marvelous things. New telescopes here on Earth and suspended in space peer into imagination-bending distances – backward to the origin of the universe and forward to futures that have already happened.

Two weeks ago, NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope sent back crisp images of the most faraway object ever seen, a star named Earendel 28 billion light-years away. The European Southern Observatory, meanwhile, is building a 39-meter (about 128 feet) earthbound telescope that will provide images 15 times sharper than what the Hubble Space Telescope could capture. Slated to start operating in 2027, it is designed to reveal new insights into dark energy, dark matter, and the formation of galaxies.

“Collectively, as a species, we are standing at the mouth of the deepest and darkest cave of all,” noted Guy P. Harrison, a science writer, in Psychology Today in May, before the Webb telescope sent back its first images. “As we lean in and turn on the flashlight, we can be confident that wonderful secrets await.”

One of those secrets may be an answer to the persistent question of whether life thrives elsewhere in the universe. Webb is an infrared telescope. If organisms or civilizations exist in other galaxies, it may detect their heat signatures. Yet the dazzling new views of celestial beauty may reveal deeper insights beyond just an expanding material universe.

“I have deep faith that the principle of the universe will be beautiful and simple,” Albert Einstein observed. “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”

Just as astronomy broke through the false concepts of a flat planet and Earth-centric universe, the latest telescopes are again breaking limits in human thought, perhaps revealing further insights into the beauty of a reality ordered on principle and law.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Flashlights in the cosmic cave
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today