What would you like to get for Christmas this year? How about --- some of the deepest secrets of the universe? How about some irreversible mind blowing and brain numbing?
Nearly 30 years ago the Hubble Telescope was launched after having been in planning and development for 20 years before that. After another several years during which a flaw in its mirror was fixed, Hubble began to produce the most spectacular views of the universe we had ever seen.
Many new revelations about the nature of the universe came forth, but the one that stuns me most is about the number of galaxies the universe contains.
The Hubble Extreme Deep Field Project took the unusual approach of focusing Hubble’s telescope on one tiny spot of the universe for 23 days. Doing that allowed the extremely faint light of distant, un-before-seen galaxies to be captured. Astronomers came away with staggering new estimates of the number of galaxies in the universe. While the extant estimate of 200 billion galaxies is mind-blowing in itself (remember that the average number of stars in just one galaxy is suggested to be 100 billion), we are now looking at a figure of at least 2 trillion galaxies, with some estimates ranging up to 10 trillion.
This means there are an estimated 200 billion trillion stars in the universe (or 200 sextillion -- that’s 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!). As one scientist put it, that’s 10x the number of cups of water in all the oceans of the earth. On top of this, if the higher end estimates are correct, the star count of the universe would be one septillion suns – we’re not even talking about the number of planets, remember!
That’s now. But it is all going to change on Christmas Day 2021.
On that day the replacement for the Hubble telescope will be launched. It is called the James Webb telescope and is 100 times more powerful than Hubble. It is designed to operate on the infrared spectrum of light which means it will see things that normally can’t be seen. It will take up its position approximately one million miles from earth in a spot that shields it from the light of the sun, moon and earth, giving it the ability to see much more deeply into dark regions of the universe where our vision has never before been able to reach.
Just as Hubble marked a major dividing line of ‘before and after’ in terms of our understanding of the size and scale of the universe, Webb has the potential of revealing mind-bending information that could well prove revolutionary to human knowledge.
After many delays and reschedules, the last one being just this week, the launch of the Webb telescope is now coincidentally planned for Christmas Day, which for Christians marks the most revolutionary event of human history --- God willfully humbling Himself to becoming a man. Of course, if we turn the telescope around and ponder, not how little God became in the Incarnation event, but how big He actually is, as the vastness of the Creation unfolds before us, then perhaps we may be on the brink of realizing something more profound than galaxies and stars that the Hubble and Webb telescopes are trying to show us.
Enjoy your figgy pudding!