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Vatican astronomer: With new pics, we can see God’s love of beauty

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HANDOUT / NASA / AFP

Image réalisée grâce au télescope James Webb.

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 07/14/22

"The universe wouldn’t work if it weren’t logical. But as these images show, the universe is not only logical, it is also beautiful. This is God’s creation being revealed to us, and in it we can see both His astonishing power and his love of beauty."

People around the world have delighted in the new images of the universe provided by the James Webb Space Telescope.

The director of the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, shared his own enthusiasm for the “gorgeous” images — a “tantalizing glimpse of what we’ll be able to learn about the universe with this telescope in the future.”

From Brother Guy’s perspective, these images are “necessary food for the human spirit” and the telescope that took the images is “a tribute to the power of the human spirit, what we can do when we work together.”

The Jesuit said the images tell us something about God:

This is God’s creation being revealed to us, and in it we can see both His astonishing power and His love of beauty. 

For the Vatican astronomer, the images were an invitation to thanksgiving, as he quoted Psalm 8: “I am amazed and grateful that God has given us humans, His creation, the ability to see and understand what He has done,” he said.

Finally, the Jesuit reflected on the work that has come before this accomplishment, enabling us to make these advances:

It was about 150 years ago when Father Angelo Secchi SJ put a prism in front of his telescope lens on the roof of the St. Ignatius Church in Rome, and made the first spectral measurements of the atmospheres of the planets in our own solar system. I can only imagine how delighted he would be to see the science he pioneered applied to planets unknown to him orbiting distant stars. 

Here’s the full text of Brother Guy’s statement:

We’re really excited by the new images from the Webb telescope! 

The images are gorgeous, as anyone can see for themselves. It’s a tantalizing glimpse of what we’ll be able to learn about the universe with this telescope in the future. Such images are a necessary food for the human spirit — we do not live by bread alone — especially in these times. 

There’s also a personal side to how delighted I am with this success. Astronomy is a small field; we astronomers all tend to know one another. Many of the scientists who built the instruments and planned the observations are personal friends of mine. I know how long and how hard they and their colleagues have worked to make this incredible machine work. It is  a tribute to the power of the human spirit, what we can do when we work together. 

The science behind this telescope is our attempt to use our God-given intelligence to understand the logic of the universe. The universe wouldn’t work if it weren’t logical. But as these images show, the universe is not only logical, it is also beautiful. This is God’s creation being revealed to us, and in it we can see both His astonishing power and his love  of beauty. 

And at the same time I am amazed and grateful that God has given us humans, His creation, the ability to see and understand what He has done. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which  you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have  made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8) 

I was especially delighted to see Webb’s first spectrum of water vapor in the atmosphere of an exo-planet. It was about 150 years ago when Father Angelo Secchi SJ put a prism in front of his telescope lens on the roof of the St. Ignatius  Church in Rome, and made the first spectral measurements of the atmospheres of the planets in our own solar system. I  can only imagine how delighted he would be to see the science he pioneered applied to planets unknown to him orbiting  distant stars. 

— Br Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Director, Specola Vaticana

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Science
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