Across the Universe: Three Galileo Sound Bites

This column first ran in The Tablet in October 2014

I had been invited to Australia this month [October, 2014] to give a science and religion talk to an association of Catholic professionals, but by the time I arrived in Brisbane my schedule had expanded into seven presentations, from school groups to university colloquia. Three of those groups asked to hear about Galileo.

The guy with the beard is NOT Galileo. The city behind me is Brisbane, Australia

What makes Galileo such a touchstone for science/religion debates? Over his 30 year career Galileo was a friend of Popes and princes, Jesuits and Dominicans (at a time when those two orders could hardly agree about anything). His reflections on science and religion have been praised by Popes since Leo XIII. If it weren’t for a few unfortunate months in 1633, he’d be hailed universally as a hero of Catholic thought. But ever since the late 19th century, when the myth of a war between science and religion first captured the popular imagination, Galileo has been cited as hero, villain, and victim of that “war.”

The Galileo story is complicated and confusing. Check your favorite on-line bookseller and you’ll find 400 different Galileo biographies, all of them with a different slant as to what really happened. I certainly don’t have the answer; what’s more, I've found that even an hour’s presentation can’t communicate anything like a complete picture of what happened. Most people only have a sound-bite understanding of the issue. They want sound-bite answers. So, as a service to my fellow Catholic science popularizers, here are three sound bites that have worked for me:

Everything you know about Galileo is probably wrong; but the truth doesn’t make the Church look any better. No modern historian thinks the Church was simply being anti-science when it put Galileo on trial in 1633. But her actual reasons are still hotly debated. Was it because Galileo had insulted the Pope? Was his philosophy in some subtle way thought to be dangerous during unstable times? Was it all wrapped up in the politics of the Thirty Years’ War, which was entering a climax just as Galileo published his most controversial book? In one sense it doesn’t matter… none of those reasons justify declaring that his work (lauded just a few years earlier) made him guilty of “vehement suspicion of heresy.” It looks like Pope Urban VIII used his religious authority over Galileo as a way of dealing with non-theological issues, be they personal injuries or political expedience. That was wrong.

When Bellarmine and Galileo debated, Galileo was the better theologian, but Bellarmine was the better scientist. In 1616, seventeen years before his infamous trial, Galileo was called before Cardinal Bellarmine to explain his views. At that time, Bellarmine had written to a friend that if Galileo could prove the Earth moved, then theologians would merely have to re-interpret passages of the Bible that appeared to state otherwise. “But I do not think he can prove it,” Bellarmine concluded. And given the evidence available at the time, Bellarmine was right. The scientific debates continued for nearly a century afterwards. It wasn’t until the publication of Newton’s laws of physics, whose final edition was a hundred years after Galileo, that science (and the Church) finally understood how a sun-centered system could make sense.

The reason that people always cite Galileo to show the Church suppressing science is that it’s the only example they’ve got. From the medieval universities, where science was first invented, through pioneer clerical-scientists like Gregor Mendel and Angelo Secchi, to Fr. Lemaitre’s Big Bang theory, the Church has supported science – sometimes literally, as with telescopes supported by the roofs of churches and Papal palaces.

But her support is also social. Our Church is proud of her scientists. We even get invited to travel around the world… to give talks about Galileo.

Want to know more about Galileo? Visit our Faith and Astronomy digital library, which has a whole section of dozens of downloadable articles and other materials about Galileo.

Also in Across the Universe

  1. Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
  2. Across the Universe: Fools from the East
  3. Across the Universe: Hunches
  4. Across the Universe: Desert or a dessert?
  5. Across the Universe: Stardust messages
  6. Across the Universe: The best way to travel
  7. Across the Universe: Original Proof
  8. Across the Universe: Pearls among Swine
  9. Across the Universe: One Fix Leads to Another
  10. Across the Universe: Limits to Understanding
  11. Across the Universe: The Glory of a Giant
  12. Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
  13. Across the Universe: Science as Story
  14. Across the Universe: Recognition
  15. Across the Universe: Tending Towards Paganism
  16. Across the Universe: The Ethics of Extraterrestrials
  17. Across the Universe: Orbiting a New Sun
  18. Across the Universe: Seeing the Light
  19. Across the Universe: DIY Religion
  20. Across the Universe: Truth, Beauty, and a Good Lawyer
  21. Across the Universe: Techie Dreams
  22. Across the Universe: By Paper, to the Stars
  23. Across the Universe: Transit of Venus
  24. Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
  25. Across the Universe: Deep Impact
  26. Across the Universe: New Worlds
  27. Across the Universe: Tom Swift and his Helium Pycnometer
  28. Across the Universe: Tradition… and Pluto
  29. Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
  30. Across the Universe: Key to the Sea and Sky
  31. Across the Universe: Off The Beach
  32. Across the Universe: All of the Above
  33. From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
  34. Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
  35. Across the Universe: Help My Unbelief
  36. Across the Universe: Stories of Another World
  37. Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
  38. Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
  39. Across the Universe: New Heavens, New Earth
  40. Across the Universe: Souvenirs from Space
  41. Across the Universe: For the love of the stars…
  42. Across the Universe: Spicy planet stories
  43. Across the Universe: Asking the right questions
  44. Across the Universe: Everything You Know Is Wrong
  45. Across the Universe: Errata
  46. Across the Universe: Clouds of Unknowing
  47. Across the Universe: Being Asked the Right Questions
  48. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  49. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  50. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  51. Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
  52. Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
  53. Across the Universe: Relish the Red Planet
  54. Across the Universe: Obedience
  55. Across the Universe: Traveling Light
  56. Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
  57. Across the Universe: Europa
  58. Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
  59. Across the Universe: Forbidden Transitions
  60. Across the Universe: Genre and Truth
  61. Across the Universe: False Economies
  62. Across the Universe: Reflections on a Mirror
  63. Across the Universe: Japan
  64. From the Tablet: Why is Easter So Early This Year?
  65. Across the Universe: Oops!
  66. Across the Universe: Dramatic Science
  67. Across the Universe: Me and My Shadows
  68. Across the Universe: Touch the Sky
  69. Across the Universe: The Eye of the Lynx
  70. Across the Universe: Treasure from Heaven
  71. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  72. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  73. Across the Universe: Awareness
  74. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  75. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  76. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  77. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  78. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  79. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  80. Across the Universe: Changelings
  81. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  82. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  83. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  84. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  85. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  86. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  87. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  88. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  89. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  90. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  91. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  92. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  93. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  94. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  95. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  96. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  97. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  98. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  99. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  100. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  101. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  102. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  103. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  104. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  105. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  106. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  107. Across the Universe: View from afar
  108. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  109. Across the Universe: Global warning
  110. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  111. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  112. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  113. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
  114. Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
  115. Across the Universe: Rocket Science
  116. Across the Universe: Maybe
  117. Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
  118. Across the Universe: Edge of the World
  119. Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
  120. Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
  121. Across the Universe: Song of Praise
  122. Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
  123. Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
  124. Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
  125. Across the Universe: Fast changes
  126. Across the Universe: The Hows of Science
  127. From The Tablet: Big Science, Hurrah!
  128. Across the Universe: Hidden inclusions
  129. Across the Universe: Where’s the olivine?
  130. Across the Universe: Planetary Prejudice
  131. Across the Universe: Pennies from heaven
  132. Across the Universe: Shrine to the stars
  133. Across the Universe: Ice dreams
  134. Across the Universe: Super Earths
  135. Across the Universe: Myriad planets
  136. Across the Universe: Leaving the neighborhood
  137. Across the Universe: The Church of UFO
  138. Across the Universe: Reaching out
  139. Across the Universe: Clouds of witnesses
  140. Across the Universe: Feeding Curiosity
  141. Across the Universe: Return to Dust
  142. Across the Universe: Three Galileo Sound Bites

View the entire series

On the immensity of space

The Total Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017 - fly along with the shadow! from on Vimeo.

Not quite two months ago I spent a late morning and early afternoon watching the moon slide across the sun, turning midday Philadelphia into twilight and back again. I stashed the eclipse filters for the occasional look at the sun, and dove into the semester. But each time I head out for a late evening walk and see the moon hanging over the neighborhood school's field, I think about it coming between the earth and the sun.

I tend to think of the moon and sun as large objects ponderously processing through space, from my perspective taking ten or a dozen hours to creak 'round the sky. Their movements mark out days, months and years, not so much minutes and seconds. So I was struck on the animations of the August 2017 eclipse by how fast the moon's shadow moved across the ground, even when you account for the acceleration (in this video slightly more than a factor of 13). With family in California, I've flown coast to coast more time than I can count. It takes me 5 to 6 hours to fly from here to there, soaring through the sky at three-quarters the speed of sound. The umbra — the shadow — took only 90 minutes to make the same trip, traveling at more than 1200 mph.

As I walked yesterday afternoon, watching the sun vanish behind the horizon as my spot on the earth rotated to face away from the sun, it occurred to me that the moon's shadow isn't the only thing moving fast. When standing "still" on earth I am, of course, in motion relative to other points in the universe. Points on the surface of the earth (at my latitude, 40oN) are moving at 750 mph. Fast indeed, but not so fast I cannot imagine it.

In this moment in history, where I can climb on a plane and be on the other side of the world in half a day, or video chat with my kids who are thousands of miles away or I can go to a lab downstairs and with a quantum mechanical trick, nudge atoms around, arranging them to suit me, I might be tempted to think of myself as commanding great powers. At least until I think about how fast the earth is moving around the sun. 67,000 mph hour. The solar system? Orbiting the galactic center at a half million miles per hour. I am moving through space at speed I cannot truly fathom: a thousand feet flash by in a millisecond, a hundred thousand in a second. Eighty thousand miles in a minute.

Lines from Psalm 29 came to mind:

The Lord's voice resounding on the waters,
The Lord on the immensity of waters;
The voice of the Lord, full of power,
The voice of the Lord, full of splendor.

The Lord on the immensity of waters, the Lord on the immensity of space. Adore the Lord in his holy court.

The psalm ends with an assurance that God, whose strength we cannot fathom, who with a word can strip the forests bare, and spin a universe into being, will grant us peace. I can think of nothing else we need more now than this. Peace and God's unimaginable strength to sustain and protect us on this tiny world hurtling through space.

In the Sky this Week- October 17, 2017

A wafer-thin waning crescent Moon is very close to Mars before sunrise on October 17th; there was earthshine from my location - morning drivers heading east got a real treat! The distance between Venus and Mars in the morning sky continues to grow; Venus getting lower, and Mars getting higher each day. Venus will disappear from the morning sky in Mid November.

The Moon in the eastern predawn sky Oct. 17, 2017

The Moon in the eastern predawn sky Oct. 17, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Saturn is still a good observing target after dusk in the southwestern sky, but it is getting a lit lower in the sky each day. A wafer-thin waxing crescent Moon will accompany Saturn on October 23rd.

Southwestern sky at 8:00 PM, Oct. 23, 2017

Southwestern sky at 8:00 PM, Oct. 23, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Orionids Meteor Shower peak will occur on October 21-22; best times to view the shower are after midnight, and before dawn on October 22nd.

Location in the sky where the Orionids meteors seem to originate from

Orionids Meteor Shower Radiant. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

For a second week there are no sunspots visible from Earth, but the lingering coronal hole in the Sun's northern region has gotten its own article and video at the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) website:

The Inner Solar System

This is the position of the planets in the inner solar system using the NASA Eyes on the Solar System app:

The Inner Solar System, Oct. 17, 2017

The Inner Solar System, Oct. 17, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

The Earth

If you click on the Earth in the NASA Eyes app, you will zoom-to the Earth, and you can see real-time positions of several Earth-orbiting satellites:

Satellites orbiting Earth - Oct. 17, 2017

Satellites orbiting Earth - Oct. 17, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Earth Orbiting Satellites

If you click on one of the satellites orbiting the Earth, you will zoom-to that satellite. Below is the Jason-3 satellite - which measures sea-level variations over the global ocean with very high accuracy.

Jason-3 Satellite orbing Earth

Jason-3 Satellite orbing Earth. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.


To get a good idea of how much stuff is orbiting the Earth, check out: Stuffin.Space:

Apps used for this post:

Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux.
NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission app - free for the PC /MAC.

Environmental Spirituality: What Is The Meeting Point Between Faith and Creation?

A subject that is rather taboo to bring up while discussing different expressions of Christian spirituality is Environmental Spirituality. As a Catholic who came of age in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the phrase Environmental Spirituality was synonymous with New Age spirituality that views the Earth and everything on it as an object of worship. This spiritual view is contrary to Christianity, condemned in 1864 by Pius IX. Considering this, most mainline Christians have an understandable hesitancy toward any talk of a spirituality in which the environment is the focal point.

Sunset outside the window at The Coffee Grounds in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Nevertheless, the reason why certain teachings over history have come to be condemned is in part because there is something in them that touches upon a profound truth that is in need to be protected and clarified. For example, as I write this piece, I am watching a beautiful sunset from one of my favorite coffee houses in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. When beholding the beauty of sky, sun, horizon, cloud, color, and temperature, the heart can easily affirm, “God is good!” However, does this instinctual reaction to beauty mean that the sunset itself is God or, instead, is there something transcendent in the experience of the sunset that points to something beyond the experience?

Years ago, I was blessed to be able to view a traveling art exhibit of the paintings of Claude Monet. When I gazed upon these canvases, I was moved to a profound sense of the genius of Monet as a painter. At the same time, the painting was never confused with the painter. Rather, the canvas gave deep insight into the outward expression of the inward reality that Monet sought to depict in his work. In a similar way, the beauty of creation gives insight into the beauty of the interior Trinitarian love that was expressed through an act of creation. However, creation itself is not the Creator, but a profound canvas of the inner love we discover in the Divine Artist.

The House of Parliament, Sunset. ~ Claude Monet

As helpful as this analogy may be for some, it still falls short of giving full voice to the question of Environmental Spiritual. Part of this inadequacy is due to the Incarnation: God taking on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In this central event of human history, we see in Jesus Christ more than just a representation of God on Earth, analogous to a painter inserting their own image onto a canvas. Rather, the Second Person of the Trinity, God, took on flesh, revealing himself as one Divine Person with two natures, human and divine. From this standpoint, Divinity entered creation in a way that would be analogous to a painter somehow entering their work in their very person, while also taking upon themselves the paint and brushstrokes on the canvas in an indivisible manner.

From here, we see the Divine Artist also acting as the Divine Physician, touching creation with grace and healing the people whom God created. This act of Divine Restoration was not limited to people, but also to creation itself as Jesus used water, oil, mud, and other natural elements to bring about healing. The high point of this Divine Restoration comes in the Eucharist, when Jesus takes bread and wine and says “take, eat, this is my body; take, drink, this is my blood.” In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, these words are not merely a symbolic insertion of bread and wine on a canvas that reminds us of Jesus, but creation itself experiences a transformation, or transubstantiation, in which a part of the canvas of creation now contains the Presence of Divinity.

Through this mystical change, creation transformed meets the lips of a broken creation that is transformative of the recipient. Even in Martin Luther’s rejection of the language of transubstantiation, Luther’s vision of the Eucharist contained a deep, incarnational nuance in that just as Jesus took on human nature for the sake of our salvation, the Eucharist contains a twofold reality that is earthly and heavenly, transforming the recipient.

At the heart of how different Christians understand the Eucharist is the vision of Sacrament (or Mysteries) and the profound influence differing sacramentalities have upon our view of the environment in light of our spiritual lives. The vaulting sacramentality of the Christian East makes one more easily deposed to see creation itself as a kind of Sacrament, making matters of ecology primarily ones of the desecration of something sacred.

To Catholics and other traditions that have a higher sacramentality, questions of ecology are cast in the moral perspective, seeing within this good earth a gift and responsibility to be tended with reverential care. At the other end of the spectrum, denominations that have very low or no sacramental worldview are more prone to see the environment in more pragmatic terms, using natural resources in a more immediate way that is divorced from a sacramental worldview. Catholics, Orthodox, and other denominations that embrace a “high sacramentality” see major moral implications when we take a utilitarian approach to creation, ignoring the call first made by Patriarch Bartholomew in the East and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the West to embrace a forward-looking solidarity that ensures access to God’s gift in creation for future generations.

Regardless of where one falls on the ecumenical spectrum, whether it be from the perspective of high sacramentality or low sacramentality, Christians universally affirming that seeing creation as God is not a part of authentic Christian faith. Rather, God’s grace has made a world in such a way that it is in a perpetual act of praise to the Creator. How do you understand Environmental Spirituality? Drop a comment below and, together, let us move toward understanding the proper relationship between creation and spirituality.

Arm Counting

What does the Milky Way look like? Are there two spiral arms like our sister spiral galaxy Andromeda, or four? We cannot exactly get a “bird’s eye” view as the Galaxy is so vast that if we were to send a satellite out a useful vantage point it would take millions of years.

Even if we could start such a venture and build a satellite with parts and batteries good to last millions of years then what are the chances that our future descendants would remember to check back to look at the pictures?

It seems instead that we must make do with mapping out our home galaxy from Earth. On top of the poor vantage point, mapping out the Milky Way has proven difficult in part because Earth is a moving platform situated amongst the stars and clouds which are themselves also in motion.

This introduces some ambiguities in our distance measurements. For example, when we look straight through the center of the Galaxy with the intent to study stars on the other side, we are unable to sort out which stars are on the near side and which are on the far side.

A breakthrough in measuring an unambiguous distance came when Alberta Sanna and colleagues recently used a natural long wavelength laser beam in space called a maser (instead of a laser) as a tool to measure the distance to the star forming region (October 13th issue of Science).

They took images of the position of the maser relative to the positions of stars superimposed in the background. They then repeated the measurement when the Earth was on the opposite side of its orbit six months later.

They found a difference between these two images, or parallax, which they related to the maser's exact distance from us. In sum, it turns out that this maser, and thus also the star forming region in which it sits, are on the other side of the Galaxy. It looks like the Milky Way has newly discovered arm!

Orionids Meteor Shower 2017: Oct. 21-22

Location in the sky where the Orionids meteors seem to originate from

Orionids Meteor Shower Radiant. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Orionids are a medium strength meteor shower that occasionally reaches high levels of activity. The Orionids typically 20-25 meteors per hour; 2006-2009 were exceptional years, with peak rates similar to the Perseids (50-75 per hour). The meteors will appear to radiate from a point near the constellation Orion. The Orionids meteor shower is best seen after midnight on October 22; the Moon will be a thin waxing crescent, setting shortly after sunset, so there will be no moonlight affecting the show. .

Waxing Crescent Moon - 2.7%. Credit: Stellarium

Peak: October 21-22
Active from: September 23rd to November 27th
Radiant: 06:20 +15.5° (see image above)
Hourly Rate: 25
Velocity: 41 miles/sec (swift - 67km/sec)
Parent Object: 1P/Halley
Source: American Meteor Society

Interactive graphic showing the particle stream from comet 1P/Halley:

NASA ScienceCasts: A Meteor Shower from Halley's Comet:

Meteor. Credit: Creative Commons, CC BY 3.0

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: A Photography Student puts his Skills to Work

In September Dang Nguyen, a student at my college (Jefferson Community & Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky), in response to Tim Dowling’s guest post, dropped me a note about his experience with the August eclipse.  Dang took a physics class from me a while back, and is currently a student in Jefferson’s Communication Arts Technology program (a very cool program—their students win awards on a regular basis), studying photography.  He sent me some excellent pictures, and a bit of time-lapse video.  I, of course, asked if I could share them on this blog, and he agreed.

The Nguyen family observed the eclipse from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and Dang told me that the most memorable moment for him was when the Sun was revealed after totality.  “It is bright but not bright enough so I could not look at it with my naked eyes,” he said, “and my eyes’ reaction to it was very strange.  It's unlike anything I saw before!  I don't know how to describe the feel, but I've seen eclipse pictures before yet I have never seen the bright-but-not-too-bright Sun with my naked eye!”  He also pointed out that he used an app to determine where to aim his equipment, and then set it up to shoot automatically.  This way he could watch the eclipse with his own eyes, and not be fooling with a camera.

Enjoy these pictures!  Everything here is courtesy of Dang Nguyen.

Dang’s composite eclipse photo, which he assembled using Photoshop.

Dang’s composite eclipse photo, which he assembled using Photoshop.

Dang notes that the video above was out of focus when he made it.  Then, I compressed his original video file so that it would download and run more easily.  That reduced the quality more.  Nevertheless, this video of the entire eclipse, which shortens hours into under a minute, is still a very cool thing to watch.

The eclipsed sun, and Venus (lower right).

The eclipsed sun, and Venus (lower right).

The sun emerging from behind the moon, with a plane going by at the same time.  Based on the position and direction of the plane, I suspect that it was specifically following the eclipse.  Perhaps some reader of The Catholic Astronomer can identify what plane it is?  Is it with NASA?

The sun emerging from behind the moon, with a plane going by at the same time.  Based on the position and direction of the plane, I suspect that it was specifically following the eclipse.  Perhaps some reader of The Catholic Astronomer can identify what plane it is?  Is it with NASA?

Dang Nguyen (left) with his sister and father, near Hopkinsville.

Dang Nguyen (right) with his sister and father, near Hopkinsville.

Some equipment.

Some equipment.

Two shots of the eclipse near at at totality.

Two shots of the eclipse, at and near totality.


Across the Universe: Return to Dust

This column first ran in The Tablet in October 2013 For about six months, our Moon had a moon of its own: a small artificial satellite called “Ladee”, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. Costing just under $300 million, a bargain, it is a little bit smaller than a Smart Car, a little bit larger than a Tardis: 7.7 feet tall, with a hexagonal cross section 4.7 feet in diameter. NASA launched it with an assembly of rockets built from old “Peacemaker” ICBM missiles. Originally designed to send nuclear bombs to the Soviet Union, these rockets are strictly controlled under a US-Russian arms treaty: the small facility at Wallops Island, off the Virginia coast, is one of the few places allowed to launch them. Thus, a bit before midnight on September 6, 2013, the rockets’ red glare was visible from nearby Washington DC and the eyes of the Congress who’d paid for it. These small rockets put the spacecraft … Continue reading

In the Sky this Week- October 10, 2017

The waning gibbous Moon is high in the southern sky before dawn; The Moon will be at third quarter on the 12th, traveling eastward and a bit lower each morning, it will be a waning crescent from the 13th through the 19th. The Moon will occult the star Regulus before sunrise on Oct. 15th. For a map and timing of the occultation for your location, click this link. Venus and Mars continue to appear close together, low in the eastern predawn sky. The Moon will appear very close to Mars on the morning of Oct. 17th. On October 14th, asteroid 2012 TC14 will pass by the Earth at 0.13 Lunar Distances – that’s WELL inside Earth’s geosynchronous satellite ring; the asteroid is estimated to be 8-26 meters in diameter. Earth’s gravity will bend the orbit of the asteroid as it passes by. There are currently no sunspots visible from Earth, but the coronal hole that has been hanging around for … Continue reading

Interpretive Frames In Faith And Science: Is Power A Myth?

Truth is power. This simple phrase was often the topic of discussion for many a theology and philosophy class in seminary. Whether it be Nietzsche or Machiavelli, much of our philosophical studies sought to debunk this secular axiom. Any committed Christian, regardless of denomination, would quickly affirm that authentic faith seeks to be detached from power. Nevertheless, the Christian must also be aware of just how deeply the “truth is power” axiom is presumed in our cultural worldview. The parish of which I serve, St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, is currently conducting a book study on Jean Vanier’s work, Drawn in the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John. Jean Vanier is a personal hero of mine for his ministry to those who have developmental disabilities. Through this ministry, Jean Vanier has authored many books and reflections on what it means to be community in light of his experience of founding L’Arche, ecumenical religious communities for the developmentally disabled. In … Continue reading

The Mystery of Fast Radio Bursts

One of the more intriguing mysteries in astronomy today come from what we call “fast radio bursts.” The first one appeared in the year 2007 in the form of a sudden, very large burst of radio waves. What followed afterward was equally interesting, and that was pure silence. Astronomers pointed their radio telescopes in the same general region of sky for years and just could not manage to detect another burst episode. Could this have been a one-off event, or perhaps an event coming from a terrestrial source (Earth)? Some purported that perhaps the detection was a complete accident, citing that a microwave oven operating with the door open could leave a radio signature similar to what was seen by the radio astronomers. So now, might the fast radio burst causing all this ruckus have been the result of a hungry astronomer? Astronomers would have to wait patiently for another 8 years before finally being rewarded with the detection a … Continue reading

From the Faith & Science Pages: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Story of ‘g’

Have you noticed the little ads for the Vatican Observatory Foundation’s “Faith & Science” resource?  It is a collection of articles, videos, book excerpts, selections from this blog, and even whole books that pertain to faith and science.  One thing you will find there is an article from the magazine Physics Today, written by Yours Truly, on Fr. Giovanni Battista Riccioli, S. J., and his experiments regarding gravity.  The story is fascinating.  Fr. Riccioli was the first person to try to conduct experiments to accurately measure gravity.  He did his experiments in the 1640’s, using various towers in Bologna, Italy (all of which are still there, by the way).  He used some very ingenious techniques to measure time in these experiments.  He got all sorts of fellow Jesuits to help him.  He obtained very accurate results for the value of the downward acceleration caused by gravity, or ‘g’ (students in introductory physics classes everywhere do experiments to measure ‘g’), all … Continue reading