A televised broadcast released on July 12, 2022, allowed viewers all over the world to see the first images from the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, NASA's most powerful telescope to date. The telescope's first images have already given us an incredible glimpse into humanity's short history, and the telescope is set to offer several more ground-breaking insights over at least the next 10 years. And, according to NASA, the telescope should remain active for more than double this decade-long minimum life expectancy.
NASA collaborated with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency to create the James Webb Telescope, which, overall, involved the work of more than 300 universities, companies, and organisations across 14 countries. NASA then launched the telescope on Dec. 25, 2021, from ESA's launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. Now, the telescope is searching the cosmos for insights that will help us understand the history of the universe, how it came into being, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life forms.
Already, the James Webb Telescope has captured images of the infrared universe in unbelievable detail. These images include scenes of Carina and Southern Ring Nebulas and a group of galaxies known as Stephan's Quintet.
Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives and Eureka Manifesto
Alongside this exciting development in space science research, the technology investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner is raising awareness about humanity’s place in the universe through the Breakthrough Initiatives, a series of space science programmes. The Breakthrough Initiatives include pioneering projects like Breakthrough Listen, which is conducting a large range of astronomical surveys looking for signs of extraterrestrial communication, and Breakthrough Starshot, which is planning a flyby mission to Alpha Centauri.
Meanwhile, in his short book, the Eureka Manifesto, which is free to read online, Yuri Milner proposes ideas about the significance of the cosmos and our shared mission to thrive far into the future. According to Yuri Milner, this mission is to explore and understand the universe. If we — and future generations — take on this mission, humanity stands in a strong position to benefit from immense technological progress — far beyond even the impressive science and technology seen in contemporary missions like the James Webb Telescope.
What’s more, if mankind does identify extraterrestrial life and contacts these civilisations, we may see humanity take a place in an even larger galactic network with cosmic neighbours, progressing humanity to new levels. On the other hand, there is a possibility that humanity really is alone. In this case, Yuri Milner asserts that such a finding should reaffirm our responsibility to continue exploring the cosmos. This is the only way that we can understand our universe.
In the manifesto, Yuri Milner also explains the concept of the Great Filter: The absence of any signs of civilisations so far suggests it may be difficult for them to arise in the first place and then survive. Instead, these civilisations could fall victim to self-destruction or existential risks from space.
The manifesto emphasises Yuri Milner’s argument that we all have a role to play in humanity’s mission, not only the scientists who are progressing research in this field. If Earth is the only planet with life, we are the only conscious beings who can tell and continue the Universal Story, the story of our emergence from inanimate matter in the universe. If we fail to survive and explore, it could be billions of years before another civilisation that has our level of consciousness can begin to unravel the workings of the cosmos.