Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Hubble Trouble!

All photos courtesy of Unsplash

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation to this very day. It was not the first space telescope but it is one of the largest and most versatile. Well known both as a vital research tool and as a public relations boon for astronomy, The Hubble telescope is named after astronomer Edwin Hubble. It is one of NASA's Great Observatories sent out to gather images of the distant stars and galaxies of our universe.

It has delivered some of the most beautiful and memorable images of our time – of all time, from all time. When the front page of a newspaper carries a picture of the latest discovery of a nebula, or triple-moon conjunction, or loopy galaxy, the chances are it will have been taken by The Hubble.

One shot in particular, taken in 2010, sticks in my mind. It shows the Carina Nebula, a pillar of cloud 3 light years tall, with stars being born in the gas and dust. When I first saw it I experienced a constellation of reactions: ‘Wow! What is that? Woe is me!’ You could say I had been totally ‘Hubbled’, which I would loosely define as the state of wonder induced by seeing images from The Hubble telescope.

This brilliant machine has done what it was designed to do, but as well as gathering hard scientific data it has done something else. It has provoked wonder. Fired people’s imaginations. Got them thinking about their place in the universe and the fascinating thing is that people conclude different things from what they see.

One person sees these images as a perfect demonstration of human insignificance. Whilst another thinks: ‘so, in all this infinite chaos, where there are black holes and dead ice planets, I happen to be on the one with the exact conditions required to sustain life.

Whatever our world or planet-view, I am not sure there is a correct reaction. Wonder cannot be prescribed. We are free to feel our total insignificance. Just as we are free to find significance. We can feel both if we want. I trust and need the scientists to tell me that the cloud of gas is made of hydrogen and that it is three light-years high, but I can still feel a divine glory and connection as much as cosmic terror and isolation.

Trying to understand our place in the universe is as much a part of the faith journey as it is the scientific. Questions of significance and insignificance lie at the heart of the Psalmist’s question to God: ‘When I consider the heavens and the work of your fingers, the moons and the stars, what is man that you care for him?’

In an age where it is hard to see religion and science in the same space, The Hubble telescope has provided a beautiful and unexpected perspective. God's perspective is that He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

And when I think of God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

Written by Peter Francis for Messages with Meaning (22/06/21) & Your542Day 


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