“What Is Man That You Are Mindful of Him?”

The wonders of God’s universe are much closer than before.

Ronny Nalin
“What Is Man That You Are Mindful of Him?”
What looks much like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals previously obscured areas of star birth. Called the Cosmic Cliffs, the region is actually the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, roughly 7,600 light-years away. The cavernous area has been carved from the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located in the center of the bubble, above the area shown in this image. The high-energy radiation from these stars is sculpting the nebula’s wall by slowly eroding it away. NIRCam – with its crisp resolution and unparalleled sensitivity – unveils hundreds of previously hidden stars, and even numerous background galaxies. Several prominent features in this image are described below. • The “steam” that appears to rise from the celestial “mountains” is actually hot, ionized gas and hot dust streaming away from the nebula due to intense, ultraviolet radiation. • Dramatic pillars rise above the glowing wall of gas, resisting the blistering ultraviolet radiation from the young stars. • Bubbles and cavities are being blown by the intense radiation and stellar winds of newborn stars. • Protostellar jets and outflows, which appear in gold, shoot from dust-enshrouded, nascent stars. • A “blow-out” erupts at the top-center of the ridge, spewing gas and dust into the interstellar medium. • An unusual “arch” appears, looking like a bent-over cylinder. This period of very early star formation is difficult to capture because, for an individual star, it lasts only about 50,000 to 100,000 years – but Webb’s extreme sensitivity and exquisite spatial resolution have chronicled this rare event. Located roughly 7,600 light-years away, NGC 3324 was first cat

On July 11 and 12, 2022, the first set of images captured from the James Webb Space Telescope were released to the public. They included a deep field image speckled with thousands of galaxies, a view of a grouping of five galaxies, images of nebulae with stars enveloped in their variously sculpted dust-rich regions, and a transmission spectrum obtained from starlight filtered through the atmosphere of an exoplanet. 

These images mark the highly anticipated beginning of science operations for this space telescope, and they were hailed with press releases around the world because of their stunning resolution, informational value, and intrinsic beauty. 

This unprecedented opportunity for cosmic observation naturally engenders a desire for deeper reflection on human ingenuity, God’s creation, and a biblical understanding of our place and meaning in the cosmos. 

The Hallmark of a Good Creation

The successful acquisition of images by the James Webb Space Telescope is the product of more than 30 years of planning and implementation of a complex project by thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians. From Galileo’s telescope to modern particle accelerators, technology and instrumentation have often been the catalysts for the discovery of new phenomena in nature and have helped us discriminate between competing ideas for their explanation. 

Undoubtedly the Webb telescope will similarly contribute to the expansion of the frontiers of knowledge. Irrespective of the scientific advancements that will be made possible by this instrument, however, its very existence and active operation are a testament to human ingenuity. 

This incredible artifact built on earth and now located in space about four times farther than the moon’s orbit embodies the essence of what really makes us special: in science as in art, it is the ability to conceive, design, create, and implement something that was not there before. Scientific collaborations of this kind, especially when intended for the benefit of all, are an expression of how humans were made in God’s image. 

Learning About the Cosmos

What are some of the specific questions expected to be answered thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope? 

It is fascinating to think that astrophysicists will be able to use data acquired by the Webb telescope to extract generalities from the vast array of possibilities in configuration and composition that exist among galaxies, stars, and exoplanets. This ability to make sense of the cosmos, categorizing and understanding the dynamics of its phenomena, is what makes the scientific study of the creation remarkably fulfilling. Intelligibility and consistency occur within a tapestry of innumerable combinations and testify not only to the wisdom and greatness of God, but also to His desire to be known. His thoughts outnumber the grains of sand on our planet, and yet we can reflect upon them (Ps. 139:17, 18). 

Between the Earthly and the Heavenly

In looking at the images obtained from the James Webb Space Telescope, I feel a little like David in his contemplation of the night sky. I am made aware not only of my finite state, but also of my value. God assigned to humans the earth as their home. And yet, while grounded daily in the earthly reality, we have been given the opportunity to consider the heavens. About 3,000 years ago David did not know of black holes or exoplanets or galactic collisions. Yet his inspired words of amazement and adoration ring so incredibly true: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens” (Ps. 8:1, NIV). 

Ronny Nalin