Should you (or someone you love) go to MIT?
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Today is “PI” day (written in American style, 3/14…) and MIT is holding a one day fundraiser… In honor of this day, this provides me with an excuse to post something I wrote for my Live Journal account a few years ago and which I get asked about from parents (and grandparents) of prospective students all the time. Of course the MIT I attended was nearly half a century back, but things haven’t changed all that much… Do I recommend MIT? Only if you are a very particular type of student. There is a reason why schools like MIT are so rare: because for most people, it is the wrong school to go to. MIT is not a place to find yourself. Because it is such an intense environment, it can be devastating to anyone who doesn’t already have a strong sense of who they are, and where they want to go. (Mind you, after MIT is finished with you, the person … Continue reading

Five Reasons Why Clickbait Works
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There’s two opposing theories about posting stuff in the week between Christmas and New Years. On the one hand, everyone’s off having a good time and not paying attention to the internet. On the other hand, nobody else is posting anything so you have a better chance than usual of actually being noticed by the folks who do. It’s been a while since I have posted a diary on The Catholic Astronomer about this blog itself, so I am taking these off-days to do so. Since the self-referential title promised five points (I just made up the number five now, I have no idea how many points I’ll have) let me start numbering them. Even though we don’t charge you for reading it, this web site is not free. I pay (a pittance, admittedly) to our bloggers, and that money has to come from someplace. In addition we pay a standing fee to Cyrcle Systems for regular maintenance, etc. Some months … Continue reading

Habemus Papam Neram!
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I am writing to you from Rome with wonderful news — we have a new Father General… the so-called “Black Pope”! As you may have seen in our Fall Newsletter I was elected to attend the 36th General Congregation. More than 200 Jesuits from around the world (including six brothers like myself) gathered in Rome at the beginning of October. Our first task was to choose a new Father General, to replace Fr. Nicholas who has retired due to failing health. It was a fascinating process. We spent the first week discussing in detail the current state of the Church and the Jesuit order (while recovering from jet-lag!). Then this past Monday we entered a four day period called “Murmuratio” — where we all broke off into pairs and discussed, one on one, the possible candidates, their strengths and their weaknesses. In this way I had deep conversations — and got to know very well — probably a quarter of all … Continue reading

A short begging diary…
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I am at Sevenhill, in South Australia, the place where Dan Davis and I observed the southern skies for Turn Left at Orion, and I am about to start eight days of a silent retreat. That means I’ll be off-line for a while. Please take care of the internet while I am gone… In particular, it would be great if you could help take care of one small part of the internet that has become quite dear to me: this blog, The Catholic Astronomer. I’m really proud of the contributors and all they have done for us, and delighted that with your financial help we’re able to pay them. (A pittance, but it’s the principle of the thing.) Where does the money to pay them (and support our other Education and Public Outreach efforts) come from? People like you, as PBS likes to put it. We’ve got a solid cadre of just over 100 people who subscribe at various levels, … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
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This column first ran in The Tablet in August 2010 Saturday, seventeen hours from California, my friend Dan and I land in Australia. We’re looking forward to a week of observing southern stars, researching our latest book, a guide for amateur astronomers. Brother Ian meets us at the airport and leads us to the Jesuit winery and retreat house at Sevenhill, two hours north of Adelaide. Even jet-lag and a partly cloudy sky can’t stop us from pulling out our telescopes that night and peeking at Rigel Kentaurus, our Sun’s nearest neighbor, and Acrux, the brightest star of the Southern Cross. Both are double stars, first split by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century.  After half an hour, the sky clouds over completely. But not to worry, we have the whole week before us. (A heat wave across North America threatens the lives of the poor and elderly.) Sunday, Ian shows us around the vineyards and the tells us the history of the … Continue reading

Fan Mail Poetry
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I get fan mail now and then; but this one included a poem, which I thought I would share, just for the fun of it! Dr. Will Buckingham is a reader in Writing and Creativity at De Montfort University, in Leicester, England, adjacent to the River Soar. He’s the author of a number of books, both academic and fiction, including children’s books. He included this note: “I was rummaging through some old boxes prior to moving house, and I stumbled across a bunch of notebooks from something like ten years back. Leafing through, I found a short poem that I’d written having seen you talk at the science museum in Birmingham. A few days after the talk, if I remember rightly, I was teaching a writing class, and I was encouraging my students to write sonnets, so I weighed in and produced the attached poem. The title is ‘The Pope’s Astronomer’’. I’m more of a fiction/philosophy writer than a poet, but it … Continue reading

Another meta-posting…
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I’ve just come back from a wonderful week at Notre Dame University’s Institute for Church Life, joining an all-star cast to talk about how science and religion can be taught in Catholic high schools. Naturally I spent no small amount of time bragging about this blog to the assembled high school teachers; I think what we have to offer here may well be the kind of content they’d enjoy seeing and sharing. And I’ve seen a nice upturn in our “hits” this week as a result; welcome! At the moment, we typically get 100 – 250 views a day, and I am delighted that these viewers – you – find our blog worth reading. But I would love to raise that number, by a lot. Surely a thousand or more visits a day ought to be possible? Surely on the internet there must be a thousand people who share our enthusiasm for space and our desire to blend together the science … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
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This column was first published in The Tablet in June, 2006. The coincidence of the church calendar it mentions is also true this year, 2015… the text has been slightly altered to align it with 2015’s calendar. The work detailed here outlines what I was doing nine years ago. An update appears at the end of the column.) This past weekend marked an unusual event in our recent Church calendar: a Sunday in “Ordinary Time.” What with Lent and the Easter season, and then the special Feasts of the Trinity and the Sacred Heart (celebrated last Friday), Ordinary Time has been rare lately. But I’ve been celebrating “ordinary time” at the Vatican Observatory as well. Unusual for me, I’ve actually been able to manage a month’s uninterrupted work in my laboratory. My airline’s frequent flyer program tells me I’ve flown over 27,000 miles since the last ordinary Sunday before Lent: an observing run at the Keck Telescope in Hawaii, a meeting at … Continue reading

Chile Diary 4: ALMA… and Ceres?
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Our last stop on the Chile trip was San Pedro de Atacama, a hiker’s paradise that now serves as the headquarters for the APEX microwave telescope (a friend of mine was using it while we were there) and the ALMA microwave radio telescope array, located at 16,400 feet (5,000 meters). It’s so high up that you have to be examined by a doctor before they let you visit. Everyone in our group passed the test… except me. (I was on antibiotics, fighting a sinus infection I’d picked up in Denver.) As I result, I don’t have first-hand descriptions… but these are some of the photos that Katie took and shared with us: But along with the telescopes, we also got to visit a couple of the remarkable sites near San Pedro… the El Tatio hot springs and geysers (best seen at sunrise, which meant an early start for us) and the “Valley of the Moon”, a remarkable collection of mountains … Continue reading

Chile Diary 3 (or 1.5, to be more accurate): Magellan
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We visited the Magellan Observatory at Las Campanas, which is visible from La Silla, en route our trips to La Silla (Diary 1) and Paranal (Diary 2). This observatory is sponsored by a number of US institutions including the Carnegie Institute and Harvard, MIT, U of Michigan, and the U of Arizona. The two Magellan telescopes were built in 2000 and 2002, using 6.5 meter mirrors fabricated at the U of Arizona mirror lab (which our FAW group toured in January). Nearby is the mountaintop where the Giant Magellan Telescope will be built; it will have seven 8.4 meter mirrors in one structure! These mirrors are all made with the spin-cast technique of Roger Angel, first used to make the VATT mirror more than 20 years ago.   Also in Diary More or less weekly diaries from Br Guy Br Guy’s Diary: December 31, 2014 Br. Guy’s Diary: January 9, 2015 Br. Guy Diary: January 17 Br Guy Diary: February 7 … Continue reading

Chile Diary 2: Paranal
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A few days after we visited La Silla we went to the telescopes that defined astronomy in the 2000’s: the VLT (Very Large Telescope) at Paranal. These telescopes are a couple of hours from Antofagasta, a desolate plain utterly devoid of life. The dryness of the area makes Tucson look like an oasis by comparison. Thus the shock of the astronomer’s hotel… It is built into the side of the mountain; from the road, all you can see is a small dome: But once you go through the airlock double-doors, you find yourself in a moist rainforest environment! In fact, the setting is so dramatic, it was used in the James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace”… But the best part was being in the dome of one of the 8.2 meter telescopes as it was being prepared for observing that night… Also in Diary More or less weekly diaries from Br Guy Br Guy’s Diary: December 31, 2014 Br. Guy’s Diary: … Continue reading

Chile Diary 1: La Silla Observatory, Chile
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For the past two weeks, I have been in Chile with a group sponsored by the Vatican Observatory Foundation to tour a number of the ESO (and other) astronomical observatories. The whole trip was made possible by the help of Dr. Fernando Comerón, the ESO representative in Chile (he has ambassador’s status!) who set up the whole tour and got us places to stay in the observatories themselves. There were three major observatory stops along the way… the first was La Silla, which is located a few hours outside of the Chilean city of La Serena, which is also near the American observatory of Cerro Tololo. Both La Silla and Cerro Tololo were developed in the 1960s, about the same time as Kitt Peak, and they have a very familiar feel to them… the telescopes are also mostly from the 1960’s to the 1990s. The site was chosen to be both clear and dark, yet still convenient accessible at that … Continue reading