It is hard to believe, given the awe-inspiring images being produced by the James Webb Space Telescope, that just over 400 years have passed since Galileo Galilei first pointed his 30 power refracting telescope at the night sky and rewrote humanity's understanding of the cosmos.
The first man to see the mountains of the moon, the moons of Jupiter, and Saturn's rings, the discoveries the Pisan genius made with an instrument no more powerful than those now sold to children shattered the Aristotelian belief the earth was at the centre of creation and that the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars revolved around it.
In much more recent times the images captured by the first large space based telescope, the Hubble, which peered deeply into the universe and captured images of colliding suns, stellar dust clouds of almost unimaginable extent, and even light being bent around black holes, has confirmed the groundbreaking theories advanced by Einstein and Hawking in the 20th century.
It was already becoming apparent that quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg's famous observation that "not only is the universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think" was, if anything, an understatement.
Or, as Shakespeare so famously put it in Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".
Like the Hubble, and every other optical instrument including the unaided human eye, the James Webb Space Telescope is a time machine. But whereas when we look at the sun, the moon, Mars or Jupiter we gaze back minutes or hours in time because the speed of the light we are observing is finite, the James Webb is capable of looking back at least 13.5 billion years - almost to the infancy of the known universe.
To put that into perspective, our sun is believed to have been spawned from a coalescing cloud of cosmic dust just 4.603 billion years ago and the earth itself did not come into existence until shortly thereafter.
One of the more intriguing implications of the countless previously unknown galaxies, stars and planets that the James Webb has brought within human ken is the obvious conclusion that the odds in favour of humanity being the only form of intelligent life the universe has ever brought forth are so low as to effectively be zero.
That said, while we can't have been the only ones, that doesn't mean we are not alone in the void. If humanity's spotty track record is anything to go by the odds are that any intelligent species on any of the celestial bodies whose distant pasts we are now observing would have destroyed themselves through either war or the destruction of their own environment billions of years ago.
So, while on the one hand the James Webb images have almost unlimited potential to reshape our understanding of the universe, on the other they are a reminder that while the heavens may be (almost) eternal that is not true of humanity which is less than 300,000 years old and did not achieve civilisation until about 5000 years ago.
Civilisation itself is a double-edged sword. The same advances in science and technology that have opened up the far heavens to our gaze have contributed to the destruction of our environment and created weapons capable of killing us all many times over.
The Webb's images remind us that the only liveable planet we have access to is the one we already occupy. We must cherish and nurture it. We must also attempt to bridge the gulfs dividing our warring factions.
Measured against the infinity of the cosmos they count for less than nothing and may ultimately destroy us and everything we hold dear.
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