Many of us who keep an eye to the heavens and have a layman’s interest in astronomy have been pretty excited this week over NASA-released photos of Ultima Thule, a snowman-shaped icy, rocky object at the edge of our solar system. It is 4 billion miles away from the sun and the most distant object ever explored by a spacecraft.
The history-making photos were taken by the New Horizons space probe, launched by NASA in January 2006. On its 13-year journey to the Kuiper Belt – a far region of the solar system beyond the orbit of Pluto where Ultima Thule floats – it has collected and transmitted tons of information about and photos of Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
With this New Horizons mission, the United States is the first nation to study every planet from Mercury to Neptune with a space probe. New Horizons is allowing us to learn more about the origins of our solar system and discern how planets evolve.
While New Horizons provides us with a ton of new scientific information, I can’t help but think this mission also glorifies God and reaffirms our faith in Him.
Jesuit Father Paul Pavel Gabor, an astronomer for the Vatican Observatory, once said that the more we discover about the solar system, the more we understand that “the universe is not something to intimidate you, but it is something given to you as a gift, by somebody who wants to give you something nice, something pretty. So looking at those astronomy pictures, you can … believe that you're really being given something.”
Pope Benedict XVI – in an address to astronomers – reminded those learned men and women that "God's mind was behind complex scientific theories. The universe is not the result of chance. In contemplating it, we are invited to read for ourselves something quite profound: the wisdom of the Creator, the inexhaustible imagination of God, His infinite love for us.”
I look forward to more photos and more discoveries from the New Horizons mission. It will reaffirm just how wonderful God, the creator of everything, truly is. And it will put in scientific language and images these words of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”