In the photo dump of all photo dumps, NASA has given us the most detailed look yet of places in the universe where someone or something—perhaps with the tolerance and empathy to help out a bunch of stupid, brawling humans—might live!
On Monday and Tuesday, NASA revealed the first images from its $10 billion James Webb Telescope, which was launched in December and is already doing laps around its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. But what James Webb really revealed is a little bit more hope that we are not alone. Please, aliens, help.
The images included the dust-cloaked Southern Ring Nebula, which looks like a portal to another dimension where everyone is rich and hot and kind; the Carine Nebula, which is a mammoth, breathtaking spectacle that feels like it’s begging for a “Believe In Your Dreams” quote; and Stephan’s Quintet, a cluster of five dancing galaxies that I would happily let waltz me right out of the Milky Way. Apple is probably foaming at the mouth over how they can market and sell that kind of camera power for whatever number the next iPhone is.
But the tour de force of Webb’s premier photo dump is SMACS 0723—officially the deepest, most distant image of the universe that looks back more than 13 billion years. The small specks of blobs and warped lights in the image are actually thousands (thousands!) of galaxies, which honestly kind of sucks when you think about it: 13 billion years and an infinite number of places, and we all got stuck here, right now in this moment.
“If you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm’s length, that is the part of the universe that you’re seeing,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a press release of SMACS 0723. “Just one little speck of the universe.” Sounds promising!
What NASA has accomplished is, of course, magnificent, awe-inspiring, very fucking cool, etc. etc. This feat is the product of decades of research and efforts from astronomers and scientists (and a lot of interns, assistants, and janitorial staff!) at NASA as well as the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. It’s a pretty goddamn good reminder of what humanity is capable of achieving when it’s focused on a singular, uniting mission, instead of focusing on things like stripping each other of their rights or slowly roasting our own habitat with greenhouse gases.
“The Webb team’s incredible success is a reflection of what NASA does best. We take dreams and turn them into reality for the benefit of humanity,” said Nelson. In my opinion, the greatest benefit to humanity would be if Bill could point to one of these newly-photographed galaxies and say, “Here. This is the galaxy with the planet with the civilization with the capability of saving us. They currently want nothing to do with us, but we’re making it our mission to convince them that some of us humans are worth helping out.”
For the record, and for any civilization out there already thinking about contacting us, I’m fine with whatever your interpretation of “saving” is. Befriending us is preferable, but at this point, just destroying us might be warranted. Dealer’s choice.