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Hero of 2022: The James Webb Space Telescope

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In the age of space billionaires and their fans, it reminds us what the stars always were: an orientation, not a destination.

Think of Earth as a Kinder Egg, a ball of surprises (plastics) and danger (chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer) that is reduced to shit by human consumption. Of the many universes, PBS tells me, life can only form in a few—and most of those tolerate but don’t encourage it, the way most people aren’t actively trying to kill you, but also don’t want to hang out. We shouldn’t ask too much.

Still, we one-up the egg time to time: elephants, underwater volcanoes, Indonesian food, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, total eclipses, the movie Friday, the five-inning stretch of Dock Ellis’ 1970 Pittsburgh Pirates acid-trip no-hitter when he thought Richard Nixon was umpire, and, latterly, the James Webb Space Telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the new heavyweight champion of the faraway, the best camera our species has built; Jim, to its friends. Jim makes spectacular the familiar and uncovers new mysteries: it’s already produced NASA’s “deepest and sharpest infrared image” of the universe,” its “most distant known star” (says, the “first direct image of a planet outside our solar system” (Axios), and, says its own website, “an ‘undiscovered country’ of early galaxies.” 


It’s even more impressive given that Jim turns one this Christmas, an age-to-accomplishment ratio to impress even the parents for whom nothing you did was good enough. And—unlike many young people—Jim has not only permanently left the house but is now four times more remote than the moon. I’ll run the numbers.

Weight: 6,170 kilograms, roughly three times the weight of a 1999 Toyota Camry LE.
Length: 69 feet, or three times the length of a 1999 Toyota Camry LE.
Cost: $8.8 billion, about 9,500,000 times the current market value of my 1999 Toyota Camry LE due to cosmetic damage to the passenger-side door.
Value: Revolutionizes astronomy, ushers in new era of space science.

The main event, obviously, is its infrared eyes. I’ll skip the details because I don’t understand them—I think it’s made of iPhone cameras—but you can see how Jim compares to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, its predecessor. I bet you remember, if you’ve always needed glasses, the first time you saw-saw a tree. Jim is that, spatially:

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