Skyward for February 2022
We all got a special and thoroughly delightful present early on Christmas morning. Although I did not set my alarm, Wendee did get up around 5 am. I turned on our television set, and what I saw 15 minutes later was the most thrilling space view since 1969, when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the Moon. It was the spectacular, flawless launch of the James Webb Space telescope, The start of a mission so perfect and smooth that if Webb could speak, it would have told us that it did not feel any motion whatsoever as it soared away. Even the countdown was unique; it was in French: “Dix, neuf, huit…” I did notice a possible hiccup. About ten minutes later, the metal covers designed to protect the telescope during launch fell away while the vehicle was still in powered flight. But a second later, I understood that this was not a hiccup; it was supposed to fall away. The telescope was already out of Earth’s atmosphere, and with no air to bother it, the protective cover was no longer needed.
As lovely as this experience was for me, the launch was not the most memorable part. That came an hour or so later, when NASA administrator Bill Nelson gave a speech in which he thanked the many people involved in the process of getting the telescope into space. At the end of his speech Nelson mentioned a young shepherd boy, sitting out under the stars, looking toward the night sky, and writing a poem about it. That shepherd boy, the Administrator went on, went on to become King of Israel.
The poem to which he referred is undoubtedly the 19th psalm, the opening 4 lines of which I quote here, plus an additional one added by nova discoverer Peter Collins, an old friend.
The heavens declare the glory of God.
And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech,
And night unto night revealeth knowledge, So long as the sky is clear.
The telescope has now been fully deployed and it is ready for its final adjustments. Unlike for the shepherd boy, and for all of us on Earth, the sky will always be clear and dark at the Lagrange 2 point (named after Italian mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange) in space where the telescope will live.
The James Webb is there to teach us about the Universe of which we are a part, and I suspect that it will also inspire us to set aside the cares and the news of each day, head out into our back yards, and look up at the night sky.
The picture shows the Webb
telescope in orbit about the Earth. It should be credited to