On Christmas Eve 1968 we saw live on television Apollo 8 circling the moon (see https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2018/12/21/50-years-ago-apollo-8-astronauts-saved-1968-genesis-reading/2301420002/). In awe the three astronauts wondered what to say to the people on earth. Finally Bill Anders, one of the three astronauts quoted Genesis 1:2-3 of the Bible. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light." And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness".
Today we can go back in time and see through the James Webb Space telescope the first stars and and galaxies that God created ("Let there be light") some 200-400 million light years after the Big Bang, a short period in cosmic terms.
For years the Hubble Space Telescope was state of the art in viewing the heavens. Since the telescope was in orbit around the earth in outer space, it was free of random lights and other interferrence. In 2021 the more modern James Webb Space Telescope was launched a million miles into space, now the largest and most powerful space telescope. One of the first photographs released this past summer (2022) is the above star cluster. It covers an area of the sky the size of a speck of dust placed at arm length. This image peers at thousands of galaxies 4.6 billion light years distant. The James Webb Space Telescope has the ability to explore stars 13.6 billion light years away, close to the time of the Big Bang (See the Appendix). Let’s recall that a light year is the distance that light travels in one year at a speed of 186,000 miles per second.
It is estimated that there are 100 billion galaxies in the universe and there are typically 100 billion stars in each galaxy. Our own Milky Way Galaxy is just one of them. That means over 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe. Our sun is one of them, just an average star, not very big and not very small. It warms our earth through thermonuclear reactions involving the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium, equivalent to thousands of devastating hydrogen bomb explosions per second. Could some of these stars have solar systems with planets having life like our earth? How awesome and immense is the universe that God created! For some fascinating images and description go to www.youtube.com and search for James Webb Space Telescope 60 Minutes. See also
Michael Menzel, a member of the Knights of Columbus since 2012. He is the lead systems engineer in the development and placement of the new James Webb Space telescope over the last 25 years, a $10 billion project. Following in the footsteps of Fr. Georges Lemaitre S.J., the originator of the Big Bang Theory in 1931, Brother Knight Michael Menzel will give us some insights into the compatibility of Science and Theology as recorded in the April issue of “Columbia”, the Knights of Columbus national magazine.
As successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope “has four specific goals. The first is to see the very first stars and galaxies. The Big Bang happened about 13.8 billion years ago, what is considered to be the age of the universe. And maybe somewhere between 200 and 400 million years after that, the first stars turned on ("Let there be light"), which in cosmic time is pretty quick. The second goal is to see how galaxies, these vast cities of stars in space, evolve over cosmic time. The third goal is to see how stars are born in our own Milky Way galaxy. And the fourth goal is to see how solar systems are born and form. All four goals really dictate a telescope that’s six times bigger than Hubble and that can see infrared light.”
“There were five main challenges, but I’ll describe the three that you’re probably most familiar with. First, the telescope stands about as tall as a three-story building, and the sunshield is about as big as a tennis court. So challenge number one was fitting that into a rocket whose fairing, or nose cone, is only 5 meters in diameter. We had to fold this thing up, and then once it’s on orbit, rebuild the observatory and telescope robotically, unfolding what are 50 of the most complex deployments ever attempted.
The second challenge is that half of the observatory has to operate at temperatures only 55 degrees above absolute zero; it’s cryogenic. Three metric tons of telescope has to cool down to minus 370 degrees Fahrenheit. And to do it, we had to build a big sun shield that’s like a big umbrella. It gets illuminated by about 200,000 watts of solar radiation, and it can only allow .02 watts through. A heat leak could really do us damage. I tell folks that if it were suntan lotion, it would have an SPF of 10 million.
The third big challenge for me was this observatory was not testable on the ground. So, we had to test it in parts and assemble a big mathematical model to predict what its performance would be like on orbit. As engineers, we like to test the as-built device. Well, we couldn’t do that for James Webb.”
“It had to be right the first time, and we were all very aware of that. This was exacerbated by the fact that deploying things in space is always a risky business. Right after the launch (in French Guiana December 25, 2021), there were reporters all over the place. They were interviewing me and the program managers — “How do you feel? How do you feel?” Well, we’re all sitting there acting very low key. I said, “Hey, look, it was a good day.” The launch was one thing, but I knew that we were really tempting fate with 50 very complex deployments ahead of us. Half of them were very precise, the ones that deployed and rebuilt the telescope. The ones with the sunshield didn’t have to be as precise, but they were actually harder, because we were dealing with five layers of indeterministic material. Predicting how those floppity layers would act in zero G was nerve-racking.
But we prepared for the worst, and there were only some very minor anomalies. We finished the deployments on Jan. 8, and we were all ecstatic. We were relieved. It was a good moment. Right now, the telescope is twice as good as it was required to be. That’s in part due to the way we engineered it, and in part due to luck. See, we allowed margin for things that could go wrong, for what we nicknamed “unknown unknowns.” Well, we lucked out, and none of those terrible things happened.”
Discoveries. “We don’t know a lot about the first stars and galaxies, but they’re probably emitting a lot of blue light. That short-wave light has been traveling through a universe that has been expanding for over 13 billion years, and by the time that light gets to us, it’s stretched out like a Slinky. You need an infrared telescope to see it, and James Webb is uniquely qualified for this.
The astronomers are coming out with their first papers soon. But they have already told me that these very early galaxies that we’ve seen so far have been much, much bigger than anybody had anticipated. And rather than being made of mostly hydrogen and helium, they have a lot of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen — heavier elements that we didn’t expect to see. So one of the big surprises is that whatever’s going on in the early universe, it’s happening much quicker than we had thought.
During and after the launch, people asked me what my hopes are for this mission. I had three, and I think they’re all coming to fruition. One, I wanted to make sure that we saw the first galaxies in the universe. Second was that Webb would detect the first biomarkers on an exoplanet. Now, nothing has been published yet, and I have less inside information on that one, but I’ve seen enough data to know that we have a really good chance of doing that in the next couple of years. The third thing was that I hoped James Webb would find something that no one expected, that no one even thought to ask the question for — and what I just told you about the first galaxies easily qualifies.”
The Relationship Between Science and Faith. “First, both religion and science are looking for the truth. It’s the methods that are different. Obviously, faith involves some introspection and a look into spiritual truths. Science looks for truth in the form of reproducible evidence. I see no conflict between the two at all.
Some of my colleagues are agnostics or atheists, and I respect that — they’re intelligent men and women — but I get a kick out of the one or two who will say, “We can prove there is no God.” That’s so laughable it isn’t funny. You absolutely couldn’t prove that.
And every once in a while, I run into the other extreme. Over the course of my career, I’ve run into folks that will take everything in the Bible literally, and God bless them. But they will come on and attack me, saying the universe is 10,000 years old, something like that. I usually listen politely and give the standard answer. But at a NASA event near Wall Street, one guy just kept telling me I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Now, I’ve read the Bible back and forth four or five times, and I finally said, “OK, you take the Bible literally?” “Yeah, I do.” “Ever read the Second Letter of St. Peter, chapter three?” “Yeah.” “A day to God is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years is like a day to God.” I started doing the math and got the world to billions of years old. He was getting so mad at me, and he finally said, “Well, you can’t take that literally!”
The most distant known galaxy (in the square upper left), 32 billion light years away.
The first photo of a black hole as it attracts everything including light. Thus the Black Hole itself, which is extremely dense, neither emits nor reflects light and is black. The matter surrounding the black hole does give off light as it is sucked into the Black Hole by its tremendous gravity.
Some Added Tidbits. Galaxy HD1 13.5 billion light years away may contain a supermassive black hole about 100 million times the mass of our Sun.
The earth rotates at 1000 miles per hour at the equator. The moon at a distance of 238,900 miles speeds around the earth at 2,264 mph. At the same time the earth travels around the sun (333,000 times the mass of the earth and 1.3 million times the volume with a surface temperature 9930 °F and 93 million miles away) at a speed of 67,000 mph. It takes the light from the sun 93 million miles away 8.3 minutes at 186,000 miles per second to reach the earth. We can then say that the sun is 8.3 light minutes from us. The closest star to us, Alpha Centauri, is 4.35 light years away.
The sun is 333,000 times the mass of the earth and 1.3 million times the volume with a surface temperature of 9930 °F to keep us warm. It’s all thermonuclear reactions by the fusion of hydrogen to helium like thousands of hydrogen bombs going off per second. As we said above, the sun is a simple medium star, just one of 100 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy and there are about 100 billion galaxies in the universe. So that means we have over 10 billion trillion or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (i.e. 10^22) stars in the universe.
The radius of the universe is estimated to be 43 billion light years. The most distant known galaxy, as shown in the above photo, is 32 billion light years away. It formed about 320 million years after the Big Bang. The age of the universe is about 13.6 billion light years since the Big Bang.
These figures are beyond our imagination and shows the immensity of our universe and the domain of an infinite God. Other worlds inhabited by intelligent beings are certainly within His creative power. What marvels shall we see in Heaven?
The Big Bang Theory
Fr. Lemaitre with Albert Einstein. Although incredulous at first, Einstein accepted the Big Bang Theory.
Albert Einstein, considered to be a genius and an atheist, was awestruck by the great order in the universe. Thus he believed in an intelligent designer of the universe, who planned it all. He said: “A spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble”. It stated the same in other words that there is a great designer of the universe, “in comparison to whom, I am insignificant.” However, he did not believe in a personal God.
Matter is contingent on being itself, who is God. Matter could have different forms and can be shaped into innumerable forms that we use in our everyday lives. When the atheist goes through the chain of contingent causes from object to person to matter, he will eventually have to stop and throw up his hands and say: “That’s the way it is”, thinking that it just popped out into being. The believer will continue to the “uncaused cause”……..God……a reality not contingent on anything, whose nature is to be. By reason, any being would eventually have to be contingent upon being itself…….God.