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Perspective Transcript

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The instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope allow it to peer deep into stellar nurseries like the Pillars of Creation and the Cosmic Cliffs of the Carinae Nebula. In these clouds, and many more like them, new stars are being born. The sizes of these clouds of gas and dust are thousands of times larger than the solar system. What we see in these images is only a fraction of their total size.

The variety of stars that emerge from these clouds range from the largest, that are 100 times the mass of the Sun and shine one-hundred-thousand times more brightly, to the smallest which are ten times smaller than the Sun and ten thousand times dimmer.

As they mature, these stars give off violent outbursts. The high-speed jets of material can be seen in the plume of the Herbig-Haro Object and in the filaments embedded in the hourglass-shaped, L1527. These outbursts extend much farther than the distances between planets in our solar system. Indeed, the thin shadow crossing the center of the hourglass of L1527 is a disk of material that will eventually form planets like the Earth and its siblings.

The hottest and brightest stars in these regions burn through their fuel quickly, completing their life cycle in a mere ten million years only a fraction of a percent of the life of the Sun. The smallest stars, by contrast, will live for over a trillion years, which is hundreds of times longer than the life of the Sun. For most of their lives these stars will take Hydrogen atoms, the smallest and simplest of the elements, and fuse them together to form helium while releasing a small amount of energy. Powering a single lightbulb requires a trillion of these interactions each second. Nevertheless, these small interactions, when taken on the scale of the Sun, combine to heat the Earth, drive the wind, grow the crops, and power much of the world.

Small stars like the Sun, die quietly as they shed their outer layers. They leave behind a hot, dense core of carbon and oxygen. The expanding shell of material appears as a ring in the sky like the Ring Nebula observed by JWST. More massive stars die violently in supernova explosions. These events outshine hundreds of billions of stars, giving off more light in a single month than the Sun will emit in its entire lifetime. They release a hundred times that energy that much energy in particles that stream outwards and tear the star apart. We can see the byproducts of these explosions in the images of the Crab Nebula and Cassiopeia A.

When stars die, the elements they produced during their lives, like Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Iron, are released. They spread throughout the galaxy. As they do, they enrich the surrounding environment, providing the foundation of future generations of stars and of the planets that form around them. The very building blocks of life are created in these great stellar furnaces.

All of the stars that we see in the night sky are part of our Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way is host to hundreds of billions of stars of all varieties. The Face-On Spiral Galaxy, NGC 1556, is similar to our Milky Way. The James Webb Telescope’s image of this galaxy highlights the bands of gas and dust where stars and planets can form and where life may thrive.

Galaxies like the Milky Way seem large from our perspective. They are a billion times larger than the solar system. It takes a hundred thousand years for light from one side to reach the other and two hundred million years for the Sun to complete a single orbit. But, when we expand our view, we see that the Milky Way is just one member of a small group of galaxies. This group itself is a small part of a larger galaxy cluster comprising thousands of galaxies similar to ours. That cluster, in turn, is a small part of a much greater expanse.

The universe is filled with these galaxy clusters, separated by enormous distances and linked together with filaments of matter that, themselves, are filled with still more galaxies that are pulled by gravity toward the connected clusters. Everywhere we look we see galaxies such as those seen in the JWST Deep Field. In this image, nearby stars produce the tell-tale, six-pointed pattern caused by the telescope’s hexagonal mirror, but nearly every other object is a galaxy containing hundreds of billions of stars.

It is incredible to contemplate the fact that this patch of the sky, filled with all of these stars and galaxies, is small enough to be covered by the eye of Abraham Lincoln on a penny that is held at arm’s length. In all, the visible universe contains more stars than there are grains of sand in all of the Earth’s deserts and on all of the Earth’s beaches. This perspective shows the majesty of the universe we inhabit, and the great blessings that are ours to be alive to see it.

The ancient prophet Enoch saw the Lord’s creations in vision, saying “…were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still;”

Moses had a similar experience, “And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered. …and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”

The James Webb Space Telescope gives us new perspectives into the workings of these astrophysical systems. From its observations, combined with the knowledge astronomers have gained over centuries of discovery, we can draw some insights that also apply to us in our lives. We know that the smallest particles, undergoing the simplest interactions, bring to pass the light that powers life on the Earth and gives light to everyone and everything. We should not underestimate the power that can be derived from such small and simple actions.

When stars pass, they leave behind the life-giving elements that enrich the next generation of stars. Wherever we pass, we too should leave behind a legacy of enriching experiences to those that surround us and those who follow behind us.

Stars of all varieties are part of large galaxies which, in turn, are part of a still larger web of clusters and filaments that fill the universe. As small as we may be, we too are part of a much larger and grander plan of our Heavenly Father.

The message from the God of Heaven to both Moses and to Enoch was the same as the message he has for you today. You are his child. He has a work for you. “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.”

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