Christopher M. Graney

About Christopher M. Graney

Christopher M. Graney is professor of physics and astronomy at Jefferson Community & Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky (USA), where he helps keep the college’s observatory running. For some years now his research focus has been the history of astronomy, especially the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He is the author of the 2015 book Setting Aside All Authority: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Science Against Copernicus in the Age of Galileo, and the forthcoming book Mathematical Disquisitions: The Booklet of Theses Immortalized by Galileo, both published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

Climate in Kurzynski Country
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I’m sorry to report that a terrific scientific and educational resource, the United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN), is fading away.  A couple of years back the USHCN stopped updating its database—the last data available are from December 31, 2014.  Moreover, the USHCN recently reported that it was going out of business, so to speak, as of the end of this month.  Nothing lasts in the digital world. In honor of the USHCN’s fine run, and in hopes that it will stick around under some other guise, I present an analysis, based on USHCN data, of the climate in the southern Wisconsin stomping grounds of Fr. James Kurzynski, priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin and fellow blogger on The Catholic Astronomer.  Fr. Jim’s posts reflect an ongoing interest in ecology, and in ministering to and communicating with people who may have diverse views on the subject of climate science.  Fr. Jim and I are “team-posting” here.  I did … Continue reading

A Kentucky Perspective on the 2017 Great American Eclipse
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I am pleased to have a guest blogger this week: Timothy Dowling, who is giving us his perspective on the August 21, 2017 eclipse as seen from Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  He is a professor at the University of Louisville in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. His area of research is planetary atmospheric dynamics.  He and his students analyze Voyager, Galileo, Cassini and Hubble Space Telescope data of the gas giants. Dowling is the lead author of the EPIC atmospheric model, which is used by NASA and researchers around the world to model the weather on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.  He has appeared in science documentaries about planetary weather on the National Geographic, Discovery and History Channels.  He is married to Prof. Beth Bradley of the UofL Mathematics Department.  They have two daughters, and are parishioners of St. Michael Catholic Church in Louisville.  Prof. Dowling and Vatican Observatory Director Br. Guy Consolmagno have a poster presentation at the American Astronomical … Continue reading

From the Faith & Science pages: The Louvain Lectures of Robert Bellarmine
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Have you noticed the little ads for the Vatican Observatory Foundation’s “Faith & Science” resource?  This is a collection of articles, videos, book excerpts, selections from this blog, and even whole books that pertain to faith and science.  There are all kinds of interesting things in it, such as a poem of prayer and praise written by James Clerk Maxwell (Maxwell developed the theory of electromagnetic waves—he ranks just behind Newton and Einstein in the Hall of Fame of Science).  And, there are the Louvain Lectures of a young Jesuit named Robert Bellarmine (click here to go to the Louvain Lectures entry on the Faith & Science pages). These lectures were published by the Vatican Observatory in 1984.  They were translated into English from Latin by Ugo Baldini and Fr. George V. Coyne, S. J. (who was Director of the Vatican Observatory at that time).  They are the teaching notes of the young Bellarmine—later to be Cardinal Bellarmine, still later … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Under Cerulean Skies
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Hopkinsville, Kentucky billed itself as Eclipseville—it was the closest town of any size to the “point of greatest eclipse”.  And on Monday, August 21 it was Eclipseville indeed. In the later afternoon of Sunday, August 20, I was putting together my last post prior to eclipse day, and wondering whether the weather would be OK, because the forecasts were mixed.  I got the post up on The Catholic Astronomer, and then my wife Tina and I went for a walk around central Hopkinsville to get some exercise in advance of Br. Guy’s talk at Sts. Peter & Paul church there.  (If you are visiting The Catholic Astronomer for the first time, Br. Guy Consolmagno is Director of the Vatican Observatory, and The Catholic Astronomer’s Blogger-in-Chief.) The program at Sts. Peter & Paul began with introductory remarks by Fr. Richard Meredith, who expounded upon the words of Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Just a few Tidbits for Now
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The weather in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for yesterday’s eclipse was perfect.  I will have a full post for The Catholic Astronomer regarding Vatican-Observatory-related Hopkinsville eclipse stuff, but not today; it will take time to write that all up and to assemble all the pictures.  In the meantime, here are a few tidbits to tide things over until the full post is written. Kentucky’s governor Matt Bevin was in the area, and was tweeting during the eclipse… …and thanks to that tweeting I have this nice photo of totality: The photo Bevin tweeted captures something of what we saw during totality (I say “something” because a photo does not do justice to the real thing).  The sun’s corona struck me as having a “three-pointed” shape, which does appear in this photo.  However, that shape seemed both larger and more striking in person than in this photo, probably because the human eye is better with slight variations in brightness than is a camera, … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Will the Weather Hold?
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For the past week you have been seeing lots of posts about tomorrow’s eclipse and about Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the town at the point of greatest eclipse (or, to be precise, near that point): Click here for Monday’s post on the eclipse. Click here for Wednesday’s. Click here for Friday’s. Click here for Saturday’s. Hopkinsville is also the place that Vatican Observatory Director Br. Guy Consolmagno is visiting for the eclipse. Of course, not everyone can make it to south-western Kentucky to see this eclipse. If you are unable to make it into the path of totality, you might be able to see totality “virtually”, because Hopkinsville has a live camera mounted up high to give a continuous view of the area. Check it out below: Of course, there will not be much to see of this eclipse if the weather is not good. As can be seen from the Monday-Saturday posts, the forecast for the eclipse has gone this way and … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Reading the Signs
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Two days from the eclipse and I am in Hopkinsville. Anyone passing through, even if they did not know that there was an eclipse here, would know that a Big Event is taking place. The signs are everywhere. Some of those signs are the busy-ness of landowners along Kentucky State Highway 91 into town. The path traced by the moon’s shadow will move toward the South-East into Hopkinsville, roughly following KY-91. While driving KY-91 into town earlier today, my wife and I saw lots of farms preparing for the influx of people—some setting up to welcome visitors (“Eclipse parking $50” near the point of greatest eclipse), some seeking to keep visitors from tromping all over their crops (“POSTED: No Trespassing. Private Property.”) Another clear sign of a Big Event are all the streets that are closed off, and the many tents and vendors set up, right in central Hopkinsville. There are also a lot of actual signs pertaining to the … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Hopkinsville as the Perfect Point
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The Catholic Astronomer’s Blogger-in-Chief, Br. Guy Consolmagno, Director of the Vatican Observatory, is in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for the big 2017 eclipse.  That, and the fact that I am from Kentucky, is why I am calling this the great KENTUCKY eclipse (check out Monday’s eclipse post, and Wednesday’s, too).  So what is the big deal about Hopkinsville? An eclipse occurs when the moon’s shadow sweeps across the surface of the Earth.  The general path of the shadow in this eclipse is as shown by the arrow in the figure below. But, “it’s complicated,” because the Earth is rotating while the shadow is moving, and because the Earth is a sphere.  Points on Earth’s surface are moving from West to East, as is the shadow, but the axis of Earth’s rotation is not quite perpendicular to the direction of motion of the shadow, and furthermore, the Earth is a sphere.  The result is much more complex than just a round shadow moving … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Measuring the Moon’s Distance
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With the eclipse coming on Monday, and with Vatican Observatory Director and boss blogger for The Catholic Astronomer Br. Guy being in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for the eclipse, you can bet you will see a lot of eclipse posts from The Catholic Astronomer’s Kentucky blogger!  (Click here for Monday’s post.) Here’s something you probably don’t think of when you think of eclipses: measuring the distance to the moon.  But you can use an eclipse to measure the distance to the moon.  You just need observers in two different places. Imagine one observer located in Louisville, where the maximum coverage during the eclipse will look like the image at below left, and a second observer located on the edge of the zone of totality, where the moon just covers the sun.  One such place in Kentucky is Morgantown.  Why is the position of the moon against the sun shifted slightly between the two locations?  Because of the difference in viewing position between … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: One Week Out
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The Vatican Observatory will have a presence in Kentucky during the upcoming August 21 eclipse of the sun.  Brother Guy Consolmagno, who is Director of the Vatican Observatory and of course a blogger here on The Catholic Astronomer, will be in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, to observe the eclipse and to share his insights into astronomy and the eclipse via a public talk and interviews with local media. This is Br. Guy’s second visit to Kentucky in as many years.  He was in the state in December of 2015, right here in my home town of Louisville.  At that time he spoke to a very large group of people at the public library (click here to see that entire talk on YouTube).  Now he is back in Kentucky to see the eclipse from Sts. Peter & Paul Church in Hopkinsville, the place where the eclipse will pretty much have the longest duration of anywhere in country. Br. Guy was invited to Hopkinsville … Continue reading

Benjamin Bannaker and Planet George
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Here is another fun tidbit about the almanac of early US astronomer Benjamin Bannaker (see last week’s post): it features ‘Planet George’. Yes, right under an illustration of how the human body is governed by the constellations of the zodiac, Bannaker has a list of the planets. Take a look in the figure below and you will see it: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, George. Why George? Well, among the leading astronomers of the late 1700’s (the time when Bannaker was producing his almanac) were the English astronomer William Herschel and his sister Caroline. While examining stars one evening in 1781 William happened across an object that caught his eye—an object whose position relative to the other stars changed from night to night. Herschel had discovered a planet—the first new planet ever to be discovered. Herschel became famous because of this, and was given a large monetary reward by King George III of England. (This was the same King … Continue reading

Benjamin Bannaker and the Practical Why of Astronomy
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Astronomy is often said to be the oldest of sciences. But why would anyone have cared to study the heavens, way, way, ‘back in the day’? Surely people back then had pressing demands on their time that would have kept them from wasting it star-gazing! Well, one answer to the question of why is that the heavens provide a great method for keeping time. Today we keep time with watches and clocks and cell phones, but for most of human history time-keeping devices either did not exist at all, or were not very accurate. The heavens provide a time-keeping service. Our basic units of time—the day, the month, and the year—are based on the cycles of the heavens. Those cycles were humanity’s first clock and calendar. Time is money, as they say, and because time is money people will care about what the heavens show us. Imagine if there was no way to keep time. Imagine a school or business … Continue reading