The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

One of my science magazines has a marvelous article on the new James Webb Space Telescope, which was put into deep space recently. Suddenly, light from galaxies that formed very close to the theoretical beginnings of the universe are being seen.

Theoretical? Sure, the Big Bang theory is just that, a theory. It’s a theory that says that the universe began with a huge explosion, so big an explosion that it is incomprehensible to mere humans such as you and I.

The folks that gaze into the cosmos seem to accept this Big Bang Beginning quite willingly, mostly because they likely cannot come up with anything better. So this theoretical beginning where dust and dark matter and dark energy and light and gas all coalesced into stars is now being threatened by the new pictures that are coming from the very near beginning of it all.

To say they all are excited by these new pictures is an understatement. Since the universe is a theoretical 4.7 billion years old, and these pictures are coming from the first hundred million years or so, they have every right to their excitement.

These pictures are in fact images of intercepted light that calculations based on red shift math say are of planets and dust and stars that are only 100 million years old.

One hundred million looks like this: 100,000,000. That seems like a lot until you look at 4.7 billion written out–4,700,000,000. Now write out how many years scientists have had telescopes–200. Now write out your age. Hmmmm. We aren’t even a speck on this particular windshield. Whoa!

We are seeing pictures of stuff from near the beginnings of time. (What ever that is.) First let me try to explain “red shift.” Since the universe that we know of is actually expanding outward at a pretty large speed, light that is intercepted from a long distance is distorted. Since all light has a color of some kind–ultraviolet and infrared being the ones we are most familiar with–that corresponds to the frequency, that color is changed because the speed the universe is expanding changes the frequency.

It works much like the Doppler effect on sound. And we all know the train analogy whereby trains that are approaching us sound different than trains that are leaving. It’s kind of like that.

This new telescope intercepts all these different frequencies, one at a time, stores them until they’re all in, and then combines them into the exciting pictures we’re seeing.

The standard reaction of the scientists involved in this is: “We sure weren’t expecting this!” Reactions to these findings vary. Maybe all these pictures are some kind of illusion that has been created because of the potential for distortions due to the effects of time and space.

Or maybe the darned telescope is tricking us. (Yes, that is one of the reactions.”

Or, if maybe they’re genuine, we can figure out how they fit into our existing theories about time and space. According to one scientist: “At stake is nothing less than our very understanding of how the orderly universe we now know emerged from primordial chaos.”

They’re in a tizzy, to put it simply.

Me? I’ve always been content to gaze into the night time sky and contentedly wonder where and when and how all those blinking lights that I now know are entire galaxies came to be.

I would have made a poor cosmologist. Romantic wonderings don’t fit into their job description.