The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. – Psalm 19:1
I’ve been in awe this week as the images from the James Webb Space Telescope have come pouring in. This latest and largest optical telescope in space offers greatly improved infrared resolution and sensitivity which allows it to view objects too old, distant, or faint for the Hubble Space Telescope. The images that have been rolling in are absolutely stunning.
Take this pair of images of the Southern Ring Nebula (NGC 3132) for example. The two stars at the center have been together for their entire lives, twin orbs of effulgence gravitationally bound in a kind of dance. They twirl each other through space with intertwined destinies. But they are aging at different rates. In fact, one of them is dying.
The dimmer, red star is near the end of its life. Stars do not die quickly, however, and throughout the thousands of years of its final days it has been shedding layers of energy, gas, and dust, spinning it outward in rings. It’s partner star, shining in brightest sapphire, absorbs some of that life into itself, and flings the rest out in spiraling waves of cosmic matter, shining its ever-brightening light on these concentric rings, illuminating them with glory. As the one partner star diminishes, giving its life to make the other whole, its glory is put on maximum display, echoing through the cosmos. And for the first time, we can “see” it.
“To whom then will you compare me that I should be like him?” says the Holy One. “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one of them is missing.” – Isaiah 40:25-26
For millennia God has been displaying His glory in the Southern Ring Nebula. He kept it cloaked in darkness all these years. And now we get to see it. How wondrous is that?!? We are the first people in human history to gain a line of sight to this particular glory of God. What a gift!
Even in the stars, God is telling us we are loved, more than we know.