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Western Slope Skies - Traveling through time with a telescope

What if I told you that you could travel through time with a telescope? No, a telescope cannot take you back to 1955 to fix your parent’s relationship. However, through a telescope, the possibilities to discover events that happened eons ago are opened by gazing at the colossal night sky. Within the vast expanding universe, we constantly witness the presence of light. Just like any trip, commute, or venture that all of us have experienced, light takes time to travel from one place to another. As objects such as stars, distant galaxies, and nebulae get farther away from us, the light takes longer and longer to reach us. So, when we observe the profound depths of space, we are more accurately seeing the result of light that has taken millions, if not billions, of years to get here.

To put it into perspective, with light traveling at an astounding speed of 186,282 miles per second, the light emitted from the North Star travels 323 light years before we see it. Knowing this, we determine that we are not actually seeing events happen in the current time. Rather, we are perceiving these events as if they happened many years before, giving us a glimpse into the history of the universe. With this light being our very own cosmic courier, we can further unveil discoveries to be made throughout the cosmos – like the recent discoveries made by the James Webb Space Telescope last year.

The James Webb Space telescope was deployed from ESA’s spaceport on December 25, 2021. Since then, it has captured images of many fascinating wonders, but one of the most notable is the discovery of CEERS-2112. It is a barred spiral galaxy with an elongated structure boasting two faint spiral arms and is situated 11.7 billion light years away. Being amongst one of the most distant galaxies ever observed, we are seeing this object as it appeared 11.7 billion years ago, when the universe was only two billion years old. Although ancient and less massive, CEERS-2112 has a strong resemblance to our Milky Way, also a barred spiral galaxy. This may indicate that galaxies in the early Universe evolved faster than astronomers had previously theorized. This observation will help us understand how some of the very first galaxies formed.

When pondering upon the concept of the speed of light, it takes on a cosmic dimension when you realize that what we perceive now has traversed vast cosmic expanses to reach us. This invites further study of the evolution of celestial bodies, the birth and death of stars, and the dynamic processes that have sculpted the universe over eons. As we await more discoveries from the technologies we currently possess, including the James Webb Space Telescope, we anticipate the detection of additional chapters in the history of space.

You’ve been listening to Western Slope Skies, produced by the Black Canyon Astronomical Society and KVNF Community Radio. This feature was written and recorded by Kaila Harward, an astronomy student of Dr. Catherine Whiting at Colorado Mesa University.

Works Cited
Choudhury, R. (2023, November 9). Interesting Engineering. Retrieved from NASA's space telescope spots a milky way twin from the early universe: https://interestingengineering.com/innovation/nasas-space-telescope-spots-a-milky-way-twin-from-the-early-universe

Fazekas, A. (2012, December 5). National Geographic. Retrieved from North Star Closer to Earth Than Thought: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/article/121204-north-star-distance-closer-solar-system-space-science

NASA.gov. (2021, December 25). Retrieved from James Webb Telescope: What you need to know!: https://www.jwst.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/needToKnow.html#launch

NASA.gov. (2023, December 18). Retrieved from James Webb Space Telescope Latest News: https://science.nasa.gov/mission/webb/?pageno=1&order=DESC

Stein, V. (2023, May 17). Space.com. Retrieved from What is the speed of light?: https://www.space.com/15830-light-speed.html

Team, N. W. (2023, December 18). NASA<gov. Retrieved from NASA's Webb Rings in Holidays With Ringed Planet Uranus: https://www.nasa.gov/missions/webb/nasas-webb-rings-in-holidays-with-ringed-planet-uranus/