Spiritual Exploration with the Webb Telescope

A friend’s 5 year old daughter recently visited our local science museum, where she was mesmerized by the Webb telescope images. As she took in this photographic evidence of galaxies far, far away, she began to wonder about the stars and planets, technology, and her place in the world. She was both curious and awestruck by the amazing possibilities this new form of space exploration has to offer.

There’s something about the grandeur of space that touches the human spirit. Use images from the telescope as a way to explore spiritual feelings and concepts with children of all ages.

Glimpses of a Vast Space. NASA scientists have noted that  “Webb’s image is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length, a tiny sliver of the vast universe.” Look at the images with children and talk about what type of things they see in the pictures. Then imagine together that you are powerful telescopes looking at different slivers of space. Draw what you imagine seeing and share your pictures with each other. Or work together to create one big poster-sized image that you can display.

Wondering about the Universe. Scientists believe that the Webb telescope will prompt new discoveries and change the ways we understand the universe. As you look at the different space images, wonder with children about the universe and its origins.  Ask: How do you think the universe was created? What do you think scientists will discover next about the universe? What do you think will happen to the universe in the future?

Practicing Perseverance. The Webb telescope took almost 30 years to build, and once it was up in the sky, it took several more months of calibration before it could take accurate photos. Describe this timeline to children and ask: Why do you think the scientists didn’t give up even though they had to work so long on the telescope? What do you think they did when they felt discouraged? How did they find ways to persevere? Pretend to be a scientist working on the telescope that wants to give up and invite children to offer different kinds of encouragement to keep you going.

Stargazing. For many people, the images evoke feelings of awe, calmness, humbleness,  and/or peacefulness. Exploring the night sky can have a similar effect. Find a dark place where you can look up and see the stars. Lie on your backs if you want. Take a few deep breaths to center yourselves and then focus your attention on the sky. After gazing in silence for a few minutes, ask one or more of these questions: What do you see? What do you wonder about when you look at the stars? How do you feel while stargazing? If you don’t have a good place to view the actual sky, substitute a projected image on the ceiling of a darkened room.

Photo credit NASA.



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