Hubble Space Telescope: 25 years old and going strong
The heavens are telling the glory of God.
In 1609 Galileo made his first telescope. A year later he argued that the earth was not the centre of the universe, which created a huge problem for the church at that time. The science of astronomy has expanded and exploded since Galileo supported Copernicus’ view that the earth revolved around the sun, which also created controversy within the church about the age and scale of the creation. For the last 25 years this science has been supported by beautiful images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
On April 24, 1990, the space shuttle Discovery lifted the Hubble Space telescope into the heavens. This space telescope has a wonderful view of the heavens because it is not limited by the distortions and absorption of light by the earth’s atmosphere. Its 2.4-metre primary mirror is small by earth-telescope standards but gives astonishing pictures across a wide range of light wavelengths (many of which we are protected from by the same atmosphere).
When the telescope was first turned on, its images were distorted; the telescope’s mirror had a flaw (1/50th the thickness of a sheet of paper). In 1993 a space mission, the first of five repair missions, installed a set of mirrors that corrected the problem, and Hubble started to perform as designed.
I’m sure many of us have seen some of Hubble’s images of God’s creation, such as the image titled the “Pillars of Creation,” but Hubble does more than reveal creation’s astronomical glory. A tremendous amount of science, over 12,800 scientific articles, has flowed from Hubble’s images. The age of the universe has been more precisely determined as 13.8 billion years (guesses once ranged from 10 to 20 billion years). Hubble’s observations led to the discovery of dark energy as being responsible for the accelerating expansion of the universe. It recorded that there were massive black holes at the centre of most galaxies. By looking for long periods of time (10 days or more, something difficult to do on earth), it showed that many galaxies were formed 500 million years after the Big Bang, changing our ideas about the genesis of the cosmos.
Hubble takes us a long way from the 3x telescope that formed the basis of Galileo’s observations of the solar system and shows us even more fully the grandeur and beauty of God’s creation. It does raise a question about our place in God’s creation. “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Ps. 8:4). If the creation is this big and our planet revolves around an average star in the middle of an arm of a normal galaxy, the Milky Way, somewhere in the universe, where do we fit in? We seem to be a very small, insignificant part of God’s creation, nothing special.
Crowned with glory
If we are blessed, we live for about 100 rotations of our planet around our sun. Not even an eye blink compared to a 13.8 billion-year-old creation! If we look at ourselves in terms of the creation, we are nothing. But the psalmist goes on: “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour” (Ps.8:5). How can this be? Could it be because we are modeled after God, and more particularly in our understanding on Jesus?
We often look at Jesus as God’s gift to reunite us with him. Perhaps another way to think about the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is to say our glory is derived from him. Rather than saying God become human in Jesus, perhaps it might be better to think about God making us in his image, that is, like we see perfectly in Jesus. Jesus remains the same yesterday today and tomorrow, and we were given aspects of his nature, which is what crowns us. Thus our glory is because of Christ.
In that light, we should look at how God acts in our Scriptures. His choice is often to raise up the obscure and weak, not the mighty and powerful. His first resting place on earth was a manger, not even an inn, let alone a palace. Thus it may not be surprising that this world is not at the centre of the universe. The glory belongs to God not to us.