From Eclipse Hangover to Eclipse Bliss! Enjoying The Saint Joseph Parish Eclipse Party.
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I must admit that I was feeling a little “eclipse hangover” this morning. After interviews, questions, and more questions, my morning walk was dominated by two thoughts: I hope these clouds break and I really wouldn’t mind if nobody asked me about eclipses today! In the end, God provided both beautiful weather and a rejuvenated spirit as many of my parishioners came out for our solar eclipse party! Below are some of the pics I took of our event. My favorite pictures are of the shadows on the sidewalk. I love how one of the effects of a solar eclipse is seeing the event projected on the ground through the shadows of leaves. I’ll let one of our more scientific types explain the science behind it. In the best homemade viewing device category, I would have to say we had a tie between a shoe box turned into an eclipse projector and someone who watched the event through seven holes on her Ritz Cracker. … Continue reading

Unexpected eclipses
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“Aunt Chel,” called my youngest niece as she bounded through the front door of my dad’s house, “it looks funny outside.” I got up and went to check. I agreed, something was off. The sky was dimmer than it should be and an odd color, not the desert blue I expected late on a Sunday afternoon, but colored a bit orange. Thunderstorm incoming? No, not a cloud in the sky. And I’m in the desert. Right. Fire? This is more of a worry, there is only one road out from my dad’s small farm. We don’t smell smoke, but still, I’m uneasy. And then there are the trees….something is just not right. We go back inside to check if there is anything on the Cal Fire site about nearby fires. My dad and sister-in-law have worried looks on their faces as I describe the sky, will we need to evacuate? As I’m opening up my laptop , my stepmother mentions … Continue reading

Nature’s Beauty on Stage
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Eclipses fascinate and inspire us. On Monday our daily routines will be interrupted by the passage of the moon directly in front of the sun that we call a solar eclipse. We will have no choice but to want to look up to take in the splendor of this relatively rare event in nature that will happen regardless of the work deadlines which time your next class starts on campus. A word of caution: please do NOT look at the eclipse directly. One will need ‘eclipse’ glasses to protect from harmful high frequency light from the sun’s outer layers that can destroy our retinas. Eclipses make for splendid excuses for doing science experiments. The stories are too many to recount here, so let’s narrow the discussion to famous experiments in the area of chemistry alone. For example, 1868 scientist Pierre Janssen viewed an eclipse through a prism. The prism broke up the light into a rainbow of colors called a … Continue reading

Rediscovering The Vibrant Contrast Of Creation In A Monochrome Society (Part Two)
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Do you see yourself as a liturgy? Do you see yourself as a sacred text? Do you see yourself as a cosmos of wonder and awe? Though I would not blame any of you for wondering what trendy, self-help guru I have been reading to get such flowery questions from, the source of these ideas is the seventh century spiritual master Maximus the Confessor. Last week, we explored Maximus’ vision of the Church as a community of vibrant contrast, seeing a necessary diversity in the Church in contrast to a monochromatic view of the Church that is narrow in spectrum, focusing only upon its structural elements. This week, we will explore how this vision of a vibrant contrast extends not only to the Church, but how we view ourselves as people. We will discover a vision of the person that is not reduced to a monochromatic understanding of flesh and bone, but a textured spirituality of depth, mystery, and beauty. Key to this exploration … 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

Rediscovering The Vibrant Contrast Of Creation In A Monochrome Society (Part One)
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One of the core paradoxes of being a hobby astronomer is that in order to see the light of stars, planets, moons, and the many wondrous objects of the heavens, we must have a dark night. If the darkness is hindered by light pollution, the sky ceases to be a wondrous tapestry of distant worlds and galaxies. At worst, the right amount of light pollution can turn the sky into a type of murky annoyance, offering no reason for the passerby to stop and gaze upon the heavens. To enjoy the vibrancy of the sky, one needs clear contrast. This thought came to me as I was revisiting one of the classics of spiritual literature, The Church’s Mystagogy by Saint Maximus the Confessor. I pulled this classic penned by the seventh-century spiritual master from my shelf to help prep for my Confirmation class this year. The term “Mystagogy” is a technical term for the process of growing in faith after … Continue reading

The Industrial Revolution for Galaxies (Part Two)
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The fact that the Milky Way has a spiral shape tells us straight away that our Galaxy is situated in the suburbs. As an analogy, some people choose to live in the suburbs given the (typically) larger accommodations per unit cost and the relatively easy access to resources. Similarly, galaxies situated in groups (the ‘suburbs’) have relatively light interactions with neighboring galaxies as well as reasonable access to “galaxy food” (hydrogen) infalling from their surroundings. By contract, the galaxies packed into tight spaces (clusters) must cope with some rather aggressive interactions which usually involve two galaxies tearing material off of each other by a process called “ram pressure stripping.” This has the effect of wearing away that beautiful spiral pattern in Galaxy images. At worst, the galaxy interactions lead to mergers, in which one galaxy joins with another one. In this case, the spiral pattern disappears utterly. We cannot leap out of the Milky Way and look down onto our … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Pennies from heaven
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A slightly shorter version of this column first ran in The Tablet in August 2012 Scientists who do experiments need material to experiment on. Thirty years ago, a grad student friend of mine ran into a problem researching motor skill development in infants because there were too many other students in her field writing theses, and not nearly enough infants available in her university town with parents willing to have them studied. (Ironically, my friend was herself pregnant at the time. Her baby, now grown, defended her own psychology dissertation in the fall of 2012; she’s now a psychology professor herself. And a mom, as well.) In meteoritics we cannot advertise for samples, much less produce them ourselves. We have to wait for our subject matter to fall, like manna, from the heavens. In 2012, however, we were fortunate to have two fascinating new meteorites land at our feet. They were each the subject of special sessions at the annual … Continue reading

Man Vs. Nature: Lessons Learned From The RSE Symposia on the Amazon and Mississippi Rivers
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Rivers are powerful symbols for both religion and society. In the Bible, rivers and water contain both a healing, redemptive quality (often referenced in the New Testament as “living waters”) and an ominous, deadly quality of sin and death (referenced primarily in the Old Testament as the abyss). We encounter both symbols when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River. Since Jesus is in no need of the forgiveness of sins, scholars have often read his baptism as a theological statement of how Christ enters into our human condition, voluntarily takes on our sinfulness through his crucifixion, and offers us a pathway to salvation through his resurrection. Therefore, Baptism carries the symbol of Jesus blessing the “waters” of our lives, leading us from death to new life. Broader society, too, often sees rivers as powerful symbols both good and bad. Thinking back to my childhood, the main stream that ran through my hometown of Amherst, Wisconsin is called the “Tomorrow River.” Though this river … Continue reading

Diary: Where does the money go? (Part 2)
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In a previous post, I noted that the Vatican Observatory Foundation (which sponsors this blog) has to raise about $800,000 a year to cover its commitments, and at the moment we are running very much behind. On the order of $300,000 a year behind, to be exact. That’s… distressing. What do we plan to do about it? Lots of things, but one in particular concerns you, the readers of this blog. The Catholic Astronomer has been around for about three years, and every year our readership is doubled and our support has likewise increased. Let’s just give an overview of where we are as of the end of July, 2017: We have 584 people who subscribe to our free email notification whenever there is a new posting. In addition, we publicize these on the Foundations’s Facebook site (just under 3,900 followers), and on our Vatican Observatory twitter site (6,600 followers) and the Foundation twitter site (1,400 followers). We get on … 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