The Pillars of Creation were first captured with the Hubble telescope in 1995, but our new and improved view thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope offers an opportunity to ponder our understanding of the universe even more.
The tallest Pillar is thought to be four light-years long (24 trillion miles!) The stars are part of the Eagle Nebula, which is a ‘nearby’ star forming region roughly 6,500 light-years away from the constellation Serpens, according to NASA.
The Pillars themselves are likely no more, given that they are roughly 7,000 light-years away from Earth. Scientists say this means the destruction of the Pillars would be visible from Earth in about 1,000 years from now.
So in looking at the latest image of the Pillars, NASA says the sharper view of the stars will help researchers revamp their models of star formation by identifying more precise counts of newly formed stars, along with quantities of gas and dust in the region. Over time, the hope is to attain a clearer understanding of how stars form and burst out of dust clouds like the Pillars over millions of years.
So on to the name — which lends the image even more awe-filled wonder — it reportedly does come from a sermon from Charles Spurgeon in 1857, “The Condescension of Christ.”
A full copy of the sermon can be found on the anti-evolution group Answers in Genesis website. But here’s the passage: “And now wonder, ye angels, the Infinite has become an infant; he, upon whose shoulders the universe doth hang, hangs at his mother’s breast; he who created all things, and bears up the pillars of creation, hath now become so weak that he must be carried by a woman!“
Now as a woman in the 21st century, I do have some other commentary on this text but alas that is for another time! The point is this passage was referring to God being made flesh, the incarnation. And now we are reading this in relation to wondering about precisely God’s presence in the vastness of the fringes of the known universe that we will only ever see thanks to the mechanical engineering of a telescope — which I know at least one woman and likely others worked on for years!
Dr. Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, actually led a discussionof whether the telescope would see God. There are almost 5,000 planets round other stars. Scientists are searching for origins of life and they want to probe the atmospheres of planets to find out how stars and planets are formed.
Her take is while Webb is not going to find ‘heaven’s gate,’ which made the rounds online, or an image of God in the sky, the question is really one for the theologians to consider. Hammel, asked whether an image of the cosmic landscape is how some may see God.
“These same patterns we see here in earth in animals, plants, crystals we see them throughout the cosmos,” she added.
She continued in her talk right before the launch of the telescope last December, “To you, if God is manifest in how people come together to fulfill a dream that is something that is positive in the world and will only add joy, wonder and beauty to the world. If that’s how you view a manifestation of God, then we are there,” she added. As for me, I continue to be awestruck by not only the images that are being captured and the reason scientists are exploring the universe this way, but also the technological marvels that in turn are providing an even richer view of our own theological insights from over the centuries.