Although Hale-Bopp, known as Great Comet 1997
will appear for the rest of the year, its appearance becoming more and more ominous towards the end of March, when authorities 39 bodies discovered
in a house in the suburbs of San Diego. All 39 belong to Sky Gate
a quasi-religious sect that believes that a spaceship traveling after the comet will arrive to help them ascend to a higher plane.
The realization that a powerful celestial event can cut two roads – that it can bring people together in shared terror and also cause an indescribable tragedy – remains with me. even when the comet dims. I thought of comets as I pored over the first remarkable images from James Webb Telescope
, announced by NASA earlier this week. The first deep field photo
not only reveals unprecedented details of deep space, but also of deep history: some of the galaxies it captures – or 13.1 billion light-years away, which means images of us sightings gave us a glimpse of the universe in its infancy.
At a time when life on Earth feels increasingly cramped and closed, besieged by closed pandemics and border-obsessed countries, lost in visions of the vastness of the universe. feel liberated. The tiny, fragile, crumbling Earth, not even a blue dot in the throng of galaxies shown in Webb’s photographs, is surrounded by endless possibilities.
However, while the pictures cause a kind of amazement to many observers – myself included – they also have their limits. That’s how astrophotography has always worked: as a spark for astronomical imagination and earth-bound activity, as well as a reminder of the inevitable challenges our present face. For those who are working to limit the effects of climate change as well as those who are working to reverse the inhuman politics of the present, the images on Webb offer a historic opportunity to refocus attention on the political and operational possibilities here on Earth.
That detached reaction greeted this photo taken aboard Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968. As the spacecraft orbited the moon and Earth appeared, astronaut Bill Anders snap a photo
captures the moon with a hole in front and half of the Earth behind it, hanging plump and bright like a harvest moon in the darkness of space.
That photo, called “Earthrise,” became an instant icon. Man has never seen the Earth that way, both grand and subtle. The image was so powerful that it helped a burgeoning environmental movement win widespread political support. More than a year after “Earthrise” was published, America celebrates Earth Day for the first time
The talk of world peace and common humanity has accompanied this new view of the planet. Poet Archibald MacLeish hello it
in the New York Times with the hopeful remark, “To see the earth as it is, small, green, and beautiful in the eternal silence where it hovers, is to see us together as people of the same age. walking on earth, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – the brothers you know now they are really brothers.”
There was a needed solace to that idea in December 1968. That year, America was rocked by violence and death: the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, police brutality outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, spreading unrest stemming from ongoing civil rights violations and the persistence of a war no people in Vietnam. More than 16,000 Americans
was killed that year in Vietnam, along with hundreds of thousands
of Vietnamese. Overall, there is a feeling that the country is falling apart.
But where MacLeish views the images from space as proof that people are “Earth companions,” others see the astronauts’ efforts as a distraction from problems at home. . Gil Scott-Heron’s speech poem
“Whitey on the Moon,” released a year after the Apollo moon landed in 1969, captured that sentiment. The poem points to the enduring poverty in Negro neighborhoods that coexist with multimillion-dollar space programs: “No hot water, no toilets, no lights (but Whitey’s on) moon).”
Both MacLeish and Scott-Heron saw in space a deeper truth about Earth. And while the Webb pictures look outward, showing us some of the most distant regions in both time and space, they still give us the same opportunity to look inward, to gather a sense of awe and wonder possibility of previous encounters with space, rather than escape from reality. about our present place and time, but to cultivate once again an awareness of how fragile and precious our planet and the life it sows.