To Catch Starlight

13.7 billion years ago, the first stars formed.

4.5 billion years ago, the Earth, our only home, coalesced from a cloud of dust.

3.5 billion years ago, life arose on our world.

440 million years ago, the first land animals left the primordial ocean behind

65 million years ago, some of the earliest mammals survived the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs

55 million years ago, the first primate evolved

7 million years ago, the earliest hominids evolved

300,000 years ago, the first member of our species Homo sapiens, was born.

10,000 years ago, the world witnessed the dawn of human civilization

3,500 years ago, the earliest known glass was made in the Middle-East.

411 years ago, Galileo used his improved telescope to make astronomical observations that would revolutionize how we understand our solar system

118 years ago, the Wright brothers completed the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk

100 years ago, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe extends beyond our galaxy, and developed the theory of red-shifting, discovering in the process that our universe is expanding.

60 years ago, James Webb became the second administrator of NASA and led the Apollo program. The same year, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel to space. “I see Earth!” he said, “It is so beautiful.”

31 years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope was placed into orbit, and after a successful mission to correct a flaw in its optics, it was able to take photos of thousands of galaxies hiding in the darkness between the nearer stars.

25 years ago, work began on its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope.

24 hours ago, on Christmas Day 2021, the JWST was launched into space on board an Arianne rocket, bound for the Earth-Sun L2 point, far beyond the orbit of the Moon.

2 weeks from now, it will (we hope) have finished unfolding and stationing itself, and a long calibration process will begin.

And finally, 6 months from now, if all goes well, this engineering marvel will chill itself to nearly absolute zero, reach out with its golden mirror, and catch those ancient photons that have been traveling through the darkness since the first stars shone in our universe, long before our planet even existed.