Vast outer space shows Earth’s significance

Our growing understanding of the vast universe shows that Earth remains singularly unique — and worth fighting for

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Columnists

July 15, 2022 - 3:16 PM

On Monday, July 11, 2022, President Joe Biden released one of the James Webb Space Telescope's first images in a preview event at the White House in Washington. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO/TNS)

On a recent camping trip to Kings Canyon National Park I had the opportunity to escape the light-polluted vistas of the city and look through a pair of binoculars at the stars under a dark Sierra Nevada sky.

Above the forest and mountains I saw constellations and stars that are too faint to make out in Los Angeles, in details and colors that I can’t usually distinguish. It has been a long time since I’d had such a clear view of the night sky.

This week, we all had a chance to see the universe more clearly with the release of the beautiful and dazzling first images of the distant and early universe from the James Webb Space Telescope. The first, known as Webb’s First Deep Field, is a sharp and detailed image of a cluster of distant galaxies (foreground) as they appeared 4.6 billion years ago. What puts it in perspective is that all that glittering detail is contained in an area of the sky as small as a grain of sand held at arm’s length. Outer space suddenly seems more crowded.

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