Webb telescope images feed mind and spirit, says Jesuit astronomer

A group of five galaxies that appear close to each other in the sky can be seen in this image released by NASA on July 12, 2022. Two galaxies in the middle, one up, one upper left and one down are seen in a mosaic, or composite, of near- and mid-infrared data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a groundbreaking device designed to peer across the cosmos into the dawn of the universe. (Photo CNS/NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team, Handout via Reuters)

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Jesuits at the Vatican Observatory were won over like most people by the beauty of the photos from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, but the director said they were also enthusiastic about the scientific information that the telescope will reveal.

“Such images are necessary nourishment for the human spirit – we don’t live on bread alone – especially in these times,” said Jesuit brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the observatory, after NASA released a first batch of images of what the space agency is describing. as “the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built”.

“The images are beautiful, as anyone can see for themselves,” Brother Consolmagno said. “It’s a tantalizing glimpse of what we can learn about the universe with this telescope in the future.”

NASA described Webb’s mission as studying “every phase of 13.5 billion years of cosmic history – from the interior of our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies of the early universe, and everything in between. “.

“The science behind this telescope is our attempt to use our God-given intelligence to understand the logic of the universe,” Brother Consolmagno said. “The universe wouldn’t work if it wasn’t logical. But as these images show, the universe isn’t just logical, it’s also beautiful.

“It is God’s creation revealed to us, and in it we can see both his amazing power and his love of beauty,” the Jesuit said.

The director of the Vatican Observatory also noted that “astronomy is a small field,” so he knows many of the scientists who helped build the telescope’s instruments and plan its observations.

Their years of effort, he said, “are a tribute to the power of the human spirit, to what we can achieve when we work together.”

“And at the same time,” he said, “I am amazed and grateful that God has given us humans his creation, the ability to see and understand what he has done.”

Pointing to the telescope’s “first water vapor spectrum in the atmosphere of an exoplanet,” a planet that orbits a star outside the solar system, Brother Consolmagno reminded readers of one of his predecessors. Jesuits.

“It was about 150 years ago when Father Angelo Secchi, SJ, placed a prism in front of the lens of his telescope on the roof of the Church of St. Ignatius in Rome, and made the first spectral measurements of the atmospheres of the planets in our own solar system,” he said. “I can only imagine how thrilled he would be to see the science he pioneered applied to planets unknown to him orbiting stars distant.”

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