Carina Nebula @NASA

Why Is the James Webb Telescope So Important?

Last week,  NASA revealed the most stunning visual images of the deepest views of the universe.   However, I did not see many Muslim magazines publish any articles about the impact of these discoveries on the future of the public community. 

I believe this is partly due to the fact that there is still a need to make space exploration more accessible to the general population. For this reason, I am writing this article to inform Muslims about the importance of astronomical discoveries and their impact on humanity. 

The James Webb Space Telescope will reveal the very first galaxies formed in the infant universe and how those galaxies evolved across 13 billion years of cosmic time.  Blake Bullock, who is a director at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems says, “It is the biggest, most powerful telescope ever to be put in space.” There are big telescopes on the ground, but nothing of this nature and complexity in space.

The most exciting aspect of the James Webb Space Telescope is its promise to transform infrared astronomy. The Webb is the successor to Hubble, and it is a hundred times more powerful. Webb also has a much bigger mirror than Hubble.

SMACS 0723: Galaxy Cluster

The Webb telescope site explains, “This larger light-collecting area means that Webb can peer farther back into time than Hubble is capable of doing. Hubble is in a very close orbit around the earth, while Webb will be 1.5 million kilometers away.”

With a massive mirror and the ability to see light, it can view back billions of years through history to capture the faint, red-shifted light from the very beginning of the universe. 

The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to observe the earliest stars and galaxies as they flicker on, investigating the enigmatic mechanisms that propelled the universe out of the dark ages and into the age of light.

This side-by-side comparison shows observations of the Southern Ring Nebula in near-infrared light, on the left, and mid-infrared light, on the right.

The Webb will also allow us to characterize distant exoplanets orbiting other stars for the first time, determining whether or not they have oceans, atmospheres, and what chemical elements they contain.

Making the Invisible Visible

In the kaleidoscopic images of Carina Nebula and Stephan’s Quintet, Webb shows us where stars are being born and generated.  Galaxies interacting in such great detail have never before been possible for scientists to see.

According to NASA, the James Webb Space Telescope reveals Stephan’s Quintet in a new light.  Stephan’s Quintet is a visual grouping of five galaxies of which four form the first compact galaxy group ever discovered.  “This enormous mosaic is Webb’s largest image to date, covering about one-fifth of the Moon’s diameter.  It contains over 150 million pixels and is constructed from almost 1,000 separate image files. The information from Webb provides new insights into how galactic interactions may have driven galaxy evolution in the early universe,” writes NASA on its website.

Stephan’s Quintet

Sweeping tails of gas, dust, and stars are being pulled from several of the galaxies due to gravitational interactions.

NASA

NASA’s article further remarks “Its powerful, infrared vision and extremely high spatial resolution, the Webb shows never-before-seen details in this galaxy group. Sparkling clusters of millions of young stars and starburst regions of fresh star birth grace the image. Webb captures huge shock waves as one of the galaxies, NGC 7318B, smashes through the cluster.”

As we examine the breathtaking images of the unseen universe, we should remember the Islamic astronomers and mathematicians who have made enormous discoveries in the fields of astronomy, mechanics, mathematics, and more. They did not see any contradiction between religion and science.

Science served Islam through various means, such as qibla calculation (the direction of prayer). Religious and scientific learning were intertwined and science was seen as a way to contemplate God’s universe.  These accomplishments did not cease as far into the sixteenth century.

What do you think about the intersectionality of science and religion? Hit us up on social media at @muslimgirl on Instagram and Twitter and let us know your thoughts!

Maliya Naz is a Pakistani-American journalist.