A Webb of Discovery

by | Nov 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Galaxies, nebulas, stars
Outer space features. Photo © James Webb Space Telescope and the NIRCam instrument.

Engineers have built telescopes that can see far across the universe. Each time a bigger and better telescope was built, astronomers were able to see galaxies farther away. The large telescopes of today face an obstacle other than distance. The new obstacle is being able to see light from galaxies so far away that the light is shifted into an invisible (to the human eye) part of the spectrum called infrared light. This is called redshift. Another problem is that Earth’s atmosphere absorbs infrared radiation, so Earth-based telescopes are useless for extremely distant galaxies.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was designed to address these problems specifically. It would be able to see farther than any other telescope by being tuned to infrared light that even the Hubble Space Telescope couldn’t see. Infrared light is what carries heat energy. Therefore, it would have to be sent into space far beyond the Earth and Moon, which are radiating lots of heat into their surrounding space.

The JWST was also designed with five heat shields that deflect heat from the Sun. The hot side of the heat shield facing the Sun is 231° F, and the cold side temperature is as low as -394° F. It’s important to have the whole telescope freezing cold because heat radiating from anywhere off the telescope could overwhelm the imaging sensor with junk signals called noise.

A helium cooling system further drops the temperature all the way to a frigid -447° F. Now the JWST can feel the tiny trickle of infrared heat energy from far across the universe more than 13 billion light years away.

The JWST was also built to be much larger than Hubble. Hubble has a light-gathering surface area of four square meters. In comparison, the JWST mirror surface area measures twenty-five square meters. In spite of that, it only weighs 17,700 pounds (8000 kg), much lighter than Hubble’s weight of 27,000 pounds (12,200 kg).

The performance of the JWST was important, so no shortcuts were taken in its construction. A gold coating is the perfect material to reflect infrared light, so it was used to coat the mirrors. However, if the gold is too thick, it could deform with temperature changes. A thin gold coating was applied by surrounding the mirrors with a gold vapor that accumulated onto the mirrors until a layer formed that was only about 1/10,000th of a millimeter thick.

It took more than 20 years and about 9 billion dollars to build the telescope. The stakes were astronomically high. Would the telescope survive launch, unfold its heat shield, assemble and collimate its mirrors, and cool down properly? It turns out that the telescope did all that and exceeded expectations and is now giving a deep space view with mind-boggling implications. The sharp images it has sent back expose mankind’s dullness in trying to invent ways the universe could make itself.

For example, Physicist Eric J. Lerner comes to the point: “To everyone who sees them, the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) images of the cosmos are beautifully awe-inspiring. But to most professional astronomers and cosmologists, they are also extremely surprising—not at all what was predicted by theory.” He says there have been “lots of surprises, and not necessarily pleasant ones. One paper’s title begins with the candid exclamation: ‘Panic!’”

Fermilab senior scientist Don Lincoln says, “Current theory suggests that the most ancient galaxies should be very small. Furthermore, they should be irregularly shaped. Over time, these tiny galaxies would slowly merge, eventually becoming much larger, like our own Milky Way. However, these infrared-visible galaxies seem to be far larger and more regularly shaped than what was predicted.”

Astrophysicist Brian Koberlein says of the JWST: “Most significantly, it has found more galaxies and more distant galaxies than there should be, and that could lead to some revolutionary changes in our standard model…the Webb observations have found very redshifted, very young galaxies that are both common and surprisingly mature.”

For those who suppose this universe is self-generating, the James Webb Telescope can be a Webb of confusion, to others, a Webb of discovery!

We know God created the heavens. They did not evolve. We don’t “panic” because evidence is destroying a long-held erronous theory. We delight in the new discoveries that point us back to the all-wise, all-powerful, orderly Creator.

Carina Nebula
Carina Nebula. Photo © James Webb Space Telescope and the NIRCam instrument.

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