News

Across the Universe: Song of Praise
avatar

This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2016

When Pope Francis issued his groundbreaking encyclical, Laudato Sì, the Italian publishing house Elledici took the moment to reissue a book written in the 1960s by the Italian scientist Enrico Medi: Canitco di Frate Sole, a meditation on the Franciscan poem that gave Pope Francis his title. At that time, they asked me as the “Pope’s astronomer” to write an introduction for the book. On first anniversary of the Pope’s encyclical, in 2016, I was invited to Medi’s home town of Senigalia, on the Adriatic coast, to celebrate the publication of this book.

I’d never heard of Medi; but I discovered that he was the spokesperson of his generation in Italy on faith and science. Reading his words, even with my poor Italian, I can see why.

For example, in one chapter Medi begins with our scientific understanding of water as a marvelous molecule, but he arrives at finding in water a hymn of praise for the virtues of humility and chastity. I was reminded of G. K. Chesterton, who once wrote in Orthodoxy: “To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.” Who cannot think of the ripple of a little waterfall or the mist of a seaside evening without recognizing the dancing and the laughter?

And yet, consider what Francis is saying here: we are family with that experience. That waterfall is our sister.

Hotel Giulietta, in Senegalia, Italy

What does it mean to say that water is our sister, that the sun is our brother, the moon is our sister? The sun is a large pile of hot gas, the moon a smaller pile of cold gray rock. Are they alive? Of course not.Yet I confess there are times when I act like a pile of hot gas or cold gray rock. Yet even when I am feeling lifeless, or too full of myself, and I feel that I barely deserve to be treated as human, nonetheless I am brother to the universe. And like a brother, I am loved.

And likewise, to abuse the universe is to abuse a family member.

St. Francis chose to write a poem about nature to communicate his love and joy in the Creator whom he had experienced in creation. Francis wished to communicate… but to whom? I’m sure he never expected his words would be the subject of a conference, much less an encyclical. When he, or any of us, gives praise to God, why are we doing this? God does not need our praise. God did not create His universe just to make for Himself a chorus of sycophants.

Enrico Medi, from the Italian Wikipedia site

Medi gave a startling answer this question. Words, he tells us, are like a mother’s gentle hand; words are the way we caress ideas, enjoy them, and show how much we love them. That’s why words are so important; that’s why finding the correct word is so important.

It is through us humans that the rest of the universe, the piles of hot gas and cold gray rock, becomes self-aware. It is through us that the universe can understand itself. It is through us that the universe can find the words to give praise to our Creator; for, of all the universe, only we can speak.

Why must we speak? Why must the universe speak? In expressing our love, we create the space where love can exist. By expressing our joy, we are creating joy. We invite God, our Father, into the dance that we share with our sisters and brothers. We speak, we dance, we sing; indeed, how can we keep from singing?

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

View the entire series

Newly Named Asteroids: Apr. 13, 2017, Part 1
avatar

Image of Asteroid 4 Vesta

Asteroid 4 Vesta. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA

The April 2017 IAU Minor Planet Center circular was filled with over 190 newly named asteroids - more than I've ever seen before in a MPC circular! And that's pretty much all that was in the circular! The May 2017 circular was devoid of newly named asteroids.

Since there are so many names in the April circular, I'm splitting it up into several posts. In this portion, some notable names include: science fiction author Philip K. Dick, poet and author Maya Angelou, activist Lilly Ledbetter, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. Several astronomers, scientists and employees at the Lowell Observatory got asteroids named after them. Some notable locations that got named asteroids include: the Benedictine Abbey in Weltenburg, Ojmjakon - the coldest city on earth, and the French city of Angers.

(9004) Peekaydee = 1982 UZ2
Discovered 1982 Oct. 22 by G. Aldering at Kitt Peak.
Philip Kindred Dick (1928–1982) was an American science fiction author. His short stories and novels explored philosophical, sociological and political themes, often questioning what it meant to be human. Many of his works have been made into movies, such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report.

Maya Angelou receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Barack Obama presenting Maya Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Feb. 2011. Credit: Office of the White House

(9011) Angelou = 1984 SU
Discovered 1984 Sept. 20 by A. Mrkos at Kleť.
Maya Angelou (1928–2014), born Marguerite Annie Johnson, was an American poet, author, and civil rights activist. She came to fame with her first autobigraphical book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Six more autobiographies followed, and many other books of essays and poetry, as well as plays, movies, and TV shows.

 

(19331) Stefanovitale = 1996 XL33
Discovered 1996 Dec. 4 by M. Tombelli and C. Casacci at Cima Ekar.
Stefano Vitale (b. 1951) is a full professor of Physics at University of Trento. He is the PI of the LISA Technology Package payload on board the LISA Pathfinder mission of the ESA, launched in 2015 as a precursor to a space-borne gravitational wave observatory.

(21054) Ojmjakon = 1990 VL5
Discovered 1990 Nov. 15 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
The coldest city on earth, Ojmjakon, lies in the Republic of Yakutia (Siberia, Russia), in the valley of the upper Indigirka river, at 740 metres above sea level. With an average temperature of -48°C in January, it has a lowest record of -70°C.

Oymyakon

Near Oymyakon in Yakutia, Russia. You're cold just looking at this photo, aren't you? Credit: Maarten Takens / Creative Commons

(22406) Garyboyle = 1995 QW5
Discovered 1995 Aug. 22 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak.
Gary Boyle (b. 1957) is a Canadian amateur astronomer who leads club activities, runs outreach events, teaches a college course and writes a stargazing column. Name suggested by R. and P. Jedicke.

(22498) Willman = 1997 LY2
Discovered 1997 June 5 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak.
Mark Willman (b. 1952) received his Ph.D. in planetary astronomy from the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy and began working with Pan-STARRS1 in 2013. Name suggested by R. and P. Jedicke.

(25159) Michaelwest = 1998 SN57
Discovered 1998 Sept. 17 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
Michael West (b. 1959) is the Deputy Director for Science at Lowell Observatory. His research focuses on star clusters and galaxies. He was PI for six Hubble Space Telescope projects and has authored two books, including A Sky Wonderful with Stars. 
Follow Dr. West on Twitter: https://twitter.com/curatedcosmos

(25160) Joellama = 1998 SN58
Discovered 1998 Sept. 17 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
Joseph “Joe” Llama (b. 1988) is a tenure track astronomer at Lowell Observatory. He started at Lowell as a postdoc working with Evgenia Shkolnik. His research is broadly focused on stars and extrasolar planets. Joe is also an amateur photographer.

(25161) Strosahl = 1998 SR58
Discovered 1998 Sept. 17 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
Susan Strosahl (b. 1960) has been a employee of Lowell Observatory since 2003. She has a degree in computer engineering. She started working in the public program and is currently working as an observer at Lowell’s Navy Precision Optical Interferometer.

(25232) Schatz = 1998 TN33
Discovered 1998 Oct. 14 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
Dennis Schatz (b. 1947) is an American astronomer and educator who was Vice-President of the Pacific Science Center, President & workshop leader for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, author of 23 children’s books on science, and codeveloper of educational programs like Project ASTRO & Portal to the Public.

(29439) Maxfabiani = 1997 MQ1
Discovered 1997 June 28 at Farra d’Isonzo.
Maximilian Fabiani (1865–1962), commonly known as Max Fabiani, was a central European architect and urban planner of mixed Italian-Austrian ancestry. He designed remarkable buildings in Vienna, Ljubljana, Trieste and Gorizia.

(30281) Horstman = 2000 HH57
Discovered 2000 Apr. 24 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
Helen Horstman (b. 1936) is a long-time employee of Lowell Observatory, starting in 1964 and retiring in 2007. Helen served as observatory secretary, cataloged images from the Planetary Patrol, and became executive secretary to the director. Since retiring, she has volunteered in the library.

Discovery Channel Telescope

The 4.3-meter Discovery Channel Telescope. Credit: Lowell Observatory.

(30524) Mandushev = 2001 MY24
Discovered 2001 June 16 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
Georgi Mandushev (b. 1962) is an assistant research scientist at Lowell Observatory who developed the data analysis pipeline that was instrumental in making the TrES exoplanet discoveries. He continues to follow up some TrES targets and is also responsible for the operating software for Lowell’s Discovery Channel Telescope.

(30525) Lenbright = 2001 MX28
Discovered 2001 June 27 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
Len Bright (b. 1957) is an observer/technical assistant at Lowell Observatory. He carried out the site characterization observations for Lowell’s Discovery Channel Telescope and has primary responsibility for day-to-day operations at Lowell’s Anderson Mesa site. He is currently extending his efforts into the software area.

(30533) Saeidzoonemat = 2001 OV4
Discovered 2001 July 16 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
Saeid Zoonemat Kermani (b. 1962) is a software engineer at Lowell Observatory. He has developed all of the instrument user interface software and much of the instrument control software for Lowell’s Discovery Channel Telescope. His software is also used in airborne work with HIPO on SOFIA.

SOFIA

SOFIA Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy flying over the Sierras with her door open. Credit NASA photo/Jim Ross

(31435) Benhauck = 1999 BH14
Discovered 1999 Jan. 23 by ODAS at Caussols.
Ben Hauck (b. 1978) has been an amateur astronomer for most of his life and is heavily involved in astronomy education and outreach. He is a passionate activist in the fight against climate change.

(32014) Bida = 2000 HL64
Discovered 2000 Apr. 26 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
Thomas A. Bida (b. 1959) is an instrument scientist at Lowell Observatory. He has developed instruments for Lowell’s Discovery Channel Telescope and for Lowell’s telescopes at Anderson Mesa. He also actively pursues a program of research on Mercury’s atmosphere.

(41481) Musashifuchu = 2000 QE35
Discovered 2000 Aug. 28 by BATTeRS at Bisei SG Center.
Fuchu is the name of the place where Kokuhu (the ancient Japanese provincial government office) was located. Fuchu City in Tokyo Metropolis has been called Musashi Fuchu, because it was the Kokuhu of the province of Musashi. Its name symbolizes the history and culture of the city.

(41502) Denchukun = 2000 QK147
Discovered 2000 Aug. 23 by BATTeRS at Bisei SG Center.
Denchukun is the official mascot character of Ibara city, Okayama, Japan. Its name originates from Denchu Hirakushi, a sculptor born in Ibara. Its shape represents a star in the famous Kabuki play Kagami-Jishi.

(44039) de Sahagún = 1998 DS33
Discovered 1998 Feb. 27 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590) was a Franciscan missionary who after arriving in Mexico in 1529 researched the indigenous cultures of the country. He believed that in order to convert the Aztecs to Christianity it was necessary to understand their gods.

(52295) Köppen = 1990 VK4
Discovered 1990 Nov. 15 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
Wladimir Köppen (1846–1940) was a Russian-German botanist-climatologist. He developed the most popular system, still used, for a vegetation-based classification of the climate in different regions, a subdivision of climates into five major types, all but one defined by temperature criteria

Updated world map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification. Legend: A-Tropical, B-Arid, C-Temperate, D-Cold, E-Polar. Credit: Peel, M. C., Finlayson, B. L., and McMahon, T. A.

Huitzilopochtli. Credit: Public Domain

(52387) Huitzilopochtli = 1993 OM7
Discovered 1993 July 20 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
Huitzilopochtli is an Aztec god associated with the sun. His name, meaning “hummingbird of the south” came from the Aztec belief that the spirits of killed warriors followed the sun through the sky during four subsequent years. Thereafter they were transformed into hummingbirds.

(70449) Gruebel = 1999 TK17
Discovered 1999 Oct. 15 by W. D. Bruton and M. L. Johnson at Nacogdoches.
Robert W. Gruebel (1924–2016) was a Professor of Physics at Stephen F. Austin State University, and a mentor, colleague and friend of the discoverer.

(72447) Polińska = 2001 DP
Discovered 2001 Feb. 16 by P. Pravec and L. Šarounová at Ondřejov.
Magdalena Polińska (b. 1981) is an assistant professor researcher at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. She specializes in photometric observations of minor solar system bodies. Her current research interests also include stellar spectroscopy and abundance analysis. Citation provided by T. Michałowski.

(84118) Bracalicioci = 2002 RE26
Discovered 2002 Sept. 3 by F. Bernardi at Campo Imperatore.
Davide Bracali Cioci (b. 1986) is a celestial mechanician who graduated from the University of Pisa. He provides an important contribution in developing software for space dynamics, in particular related to asteroids and impact monitoring activities.

(85196) Halle = 1991 TG3
Discovered 1991 Oct. 4 by F. B ¨orngen and L. D. Schmadel at Tautenburg.
Halle (Saale) in Saxony Anhalt is a large city containing the university of Halle-Wittenberg, the academy of Art and Design, and the Franckesche foundation. It is the native town of Handel.

(85198) Weltenburg = 1991 TC6
Discovered 1991 Oct. 2 by F. B ¨orngen and L. D. Schmadel at Tautenburg.
The famous Benedictine Abbey in Weltenburg on the Danube is the oldest monastery in Bavaria. It was founded around 600 CE and the monks have brewed beer there since 1050. It is the world’s oldest monastic brewery.

View of Weltenburg Abbey, on the Danube. Credit: Octobrist / Creative Commons

(85214) Sommersdorf = 1992 SZ1
Discovered 1992 Sept. 21 by F. Börngen and L. D. Schmadel at Tautenburg.
Sommersdorf is a municipality in the northern part of Bavaria. Every five years since 1968, the Franconian Passion Play has been presented there on an open-air stage with 400 participants, two-thirds of whom live in the municipality.

(85216) Schein = 1992 SL17
Discovered 1992 Sept. 24 by F. Börngen and L. D. Schmadel at Tautenburg.
Johann Herman Schein (1586–1630), born and died in Saxony, was cantor of Leipzig’s Thomanerchor for 16 years. He belongs to the grand three “S” of baroque music in Germany: the three composers Schütz, Schein and Scheidt, were born in 1585, 1586 and 1587, respectively.

(90711) Stotternheim = 1990 TB10
Discovered 1990 Oct. 10 by F. Börngen and L. D. Schmadel at Tautenburg.
Stotternheim is a village near Erfurt, where the young Martin Luther began his study. He travelled to his parents in Mansfeld. On the way back he was surprised by a heavy thunderstorm near Stotternheim. Luther vowed, if he survived, that he would become a monk.

(95951) Ernestopalomba = 2003 QG6
Discovered 2003 Aug. 18 by F. Bernardi at Campo Imperatore.
Ernesto Palomba (b. 1967) is a planetary scientist at INAF-IAPS, active in the research of minor bodies. At the beginning of his career he was a CINEOS survey team member. His main interests are compositional studies of asteroid surfaces by means of hyperspectral images.

(95955) Claragianni = 2003 QX32
Discovered 2003 Aug. 21 by E. Palomba at Campo Imperatore.
Clara Cagnacci (b. 1933) and Giannantonio Palomba (1932–2015) are the parents of the discoverer. They supported the fascination of their son for astronomy from his youth, as an amateur astronomer, to his maturity, when he obtained a permanent position as an astronomer.

(113659) Faltona = 2002 TQ85
Discovered 2002 Oct. 2 by E. Palomba at Campo Imperatore.
Faltona is a rural Tuscan village located in the Pratomagno mountain range. In the past, this area was a popular crossroads dominated by the Abbey of S. Trinit, whose ruins are still present along with a medieval stone bridge.

(117384) Halharrison = 2004 YD16
Discovered 2004 Dec. 18 by Mt. Lemmon Survey at Mount Lemmon.
Hal Harrison (b. 1947) is an amateur astronomer and photographer and has always been fascinated by planetary science and astronomy. His career began with his working on IBM mainframe computers and evolved along with changes in technology. He is presently head driver at Wormhole Racing.

(129982) Jeffseabrook = 1999 UJ45
Discovered 1999 Oct. 31 by the Catalina Sky Survey.
Jeff Seabrook (b. 1976) is part of the altimetry team developing the capability to generate topography and shape models from the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter. Prior to this, he was a graduate student who developed and deployed atmospheric ozone lidars, and part of the MET team on the Phoenix Mars Mission.

Giovanni Battista Lacchini. Credit: Public Domain.

(145962) Lacchini = 1999 YH5
Discovered 1999 Dec. 29 by V. S. Casulli at Colleverde.
Giovanni Battista Lacchini (1884–1967) was an Italian astronomer, noted for his work on variable stars. He published over 100 papers and was a founding member of the AAVSO. A crater on the farside of the moon bears his name.

(166622) Sebastien = 2002 SR15
Discovered 2002 Sept. 27 by NEAT at Palomar.
Sébastien Rodriguez (b. 1976) is an assistant professor at the University of Paris Diderot and specializes in remote sensing of planetary surfaces and atmospheres. Name suggested and citation written by S. Le Mouélic.

(167976) Ormsbymitchel = 2005 GS8
Discovered 2005 Apr. 1 by V. Reddy at Goodricke-Pigott.
Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel (1809–1862) was an astronomer who founded the Cincinnati Observatory and later became director of the Dudley Observatory. He published the first popular journal of astronomy (The Sidereal Messenger) in the United States and confirmed that the star Antares is a double star.

(184318) Fosanelli = 2005 GC1
Discovered 2005 Apr. 2 by C. Rinner at Ottmarsheim.
Patrik Fosanelli (b. 1945) is an active French amateur astronomer , involved in spectroscopy research at the Osenbach Observatory. He promotes the use of spectroscopy by amateur astronomers.

Menorca megalith

A taula on the island of Menorca. Credit: ZenTrowel/Public DOmain

(216295) Menorca = 2007 LX14
Discovered 2007 June 11 at OAM Observatory, La Sagra.
Menorca is the most eastern and northern island of the Balearic Islands (Spain). It was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1993 by UNESCO, and contains important megalithic monuments (navetas, talayots and taulas).

(226672) Kucinskas = 2004 HH5
Discovered 2004 Apr. 16 by K.Černis and J. Zdanavicius at Moletai.
Arunas Kucinskas (b. 1967) is a professor at the Astronomical Observatory of Vilnius University. He is an expert in stellar astronomy, astrochemistry and 3D modeling of atmospheres of red giant stars. He is an author of more than 100 scientific papers and many popular science articles.

(262419) Suzaka = 2006 UK63
Discovered 2006 Oct. 20 by Y. Sorimachi and A. Nakajima at Nyukasa.
Suzaka is a city of about 50 000 inhabitants located in northern Nagano prefecture. In the past it prospered from silk-reeling industries and many traditional Japanese white-walled warehouses remain.

Andalucia Region, Spain

Andalucia Region, Spain. Credit: Google Maps.

(266465) Andalucia = 2007 OH
Discovered 2007 July 16 at OAM Observatory, La Sagra.
Andalucia (Andalusia) is an autonomous Spanish community with the largest number of inhabitants spread out over 80,000 km2. The community is key to the history of southern Europe, and its ports were essential to the discovery and exploration of America.

(293383) Maigret = 2007 EZ38
Discovered 2007 Mar. 11 by B. Christophe at Saint-Sulpice.
Jules Maigret, French police detective and Commissaire a la Brigade Criminelle de Paris, was a character created by writer Georges Simenon in 1931.

(303265) Littmann = 2004 RH111
Discovered 2004 Sept. 8 by J. W. Young at Wrightwood.
Mark Littmann (b. 1939) is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Tennessee, where he holds the Julia G. & Alfred G. Hill Chair of Excellence in Science, Technology, and Medical Writing. He is also the author of many astronomy related texts.

(304788) Cresques = 2007 NZ1
Discovered * 2007 July 13 at OAM Observatory, La Sagra.
Cresques Abraham (1325–1387) was a Majorcan Jewish geographer and cartographer. His Catalan Atlas (1375), stored in the Bibliotheque National de Paris, is considered one of the pinnacles of medieval cartographic knowledge.

Henri Edmond Cross

Self-Portrait with Cigarette - Henri Edmond Cross. Public Domain

(321485) Cross = 2009 SK19
Discovered 2009 Sept. 18 by B. Christophe at Saint-Sulpice.
Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), born Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix, was a French painter and printmaker. He is most acclaimed as a master of Neo-Impressionism, and he played an important role in shaping the second phase of that movement.

Vivant Denon

Self-portrait by French engraver, writer, art historian and administrator Vivant Denon. Public Domain.

(324925) Vivantdenon = 2007 WO1
Discovered 2007 Nov. 17 by B. Christophe at Saint-Sulpice.
Dominique Vivant Baron Denon (1747–1825) was a French artist, writer, diplomat, author, and archaeologist. He was appointed as the first Director of the Louvre museum by Napoleon after the Egyptian campaign.

(330455) Anbrysse = 2007 EV31
Discovered * 2005 Nov. 9 by P. De Cat at Uccle.
This name is dedicated to the people who lost their fight, those who are still fighting and the ones who will have to fight cancer. It is named after An Brysse (b. 1969), the most successful participant in 2016 of the fund-raising event “Loop naar de maan” (“Run to the moon”) for Belgian cancer research.

(331105) Giselher = 2009 XG9
Discovered 2009 Dec. 13 by R. Kracht at Sonoita (IRO).
Dietrich Giselher Kracht (b. 1944) is the elder brother of the discoverer, who introduced him to astronomy at the observatory of the Olbers-Gesellschaft in Bremen.

(355029) Herve = 2006 RH
Discovered 2006 Sept. 1 by C. Rinner at Ottmarsheim.
Jacquinot Herve (b. 1953) is a very enthusiastic French amateur astronomer. He is also a radio ham, a private pilot and a sailor.

(366852) Ti = 2005 RL9
Discovered 2005 Sept. 8 by J. Lacruz at La Cañada.
Teresa (“Ti”) Lacruz Martin (b. 1954) is the eldest sister of the discoverer. She is a law graduate of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and she works as Senior Director of Environment, Health and Safety & Ethics at General Dynamics European Land Systems.

(371220) Angers = 2006 BD8
Discovered 2006 Jan. 22 by J.-C. Merlin at Nogales.
Angers is a city in western France about 300 km southwest of Paris. It is chef-lieu of the Maine-et-Loire department and was, before the French Revolution, the capital of the province of Anjou. In the 5th century BCE, the Celtic people of the Andes settled in the region of Angers and gave it its name.

Angers, Maine-et-Loire, Pays de la Loire, France. The banks of the Maine seen from the Château d'Angers, with the Verdun bridge in the foreground. Credit: Tango7174/Wikimedia Commons

Lilly Ledbetter. Credit: Molly Theobald/Wikimedia Commons

(403563) Ledbetter = 2010 LY97
Discovered 2010 June 13 at WISE.
Lilly Ledbetter (b. 1938) is an American who fights for pay equity. Upon discovering she was being paid less than her male colleagues, she sued her employer (Goodyear). Her case inspired passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.

(424200) Tonicelia = 2007 NV1
Discovered 2007 July 12 at OAM Observatory, La Sagra.
Antonio Celia Miro (b. 1969) is a Spanish software engineer and advanced amateur astronomer. He built his observatory in 2011, with a self-built computerized mount and an inexpensive 0.15-m Newtonian. He is interested in astrometry, photometry and in pro-am collaborations.

(449922) Bailey = 2015 OM9
Discovered * 2010 June 9 at WISE.
Ronald W. Bailey (b. 1958) supported mission operations for NASA spacecraft including Topex, Jason and WISE/NEOWISE in a career that spanned more than 35 years.

(452307) Manawydan = 1997 XV11
Discovered 1997 Dec. 5 by ODAS at Caussols.
In Welsh mythology, Manawydan ab Llỹr (son of Llỹr) was a scholar, a magician and a peaceful man.

(455739) Isabelita = 2005 JG2
Discovered 2005 May 2 by J. Lacruz at La Cañada.
Isabel Izquierdo Lacruz (b. 1988) is the niece of the discoverer and is a 2012 graduate in sociology from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

(471109) Vladobahýl = 2010 CO12
Discovered 2010 Feb. 12 by S. Kurti at Mayhill.
Vladimír Bahýl (b. 1948), Associate Professor Emeritus at the Technical University in Zvolen, constructed a computed tomography scanner used in dendrology. As an amateur astronomer he is a dedicated observer of variable stars, asteroids and meteors. He built his own observatory named after his granddaughter, Julia.

Source: http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/iau/ECS/MPCArchive/2017/MPC_20170413.pdf

Astronomy in Art & Architecture: Newark, New Jersey USA
avatar

I always keep an eye out for instances of math and science (and astronomy in particular) appearing in public art and architecture, because that stuff seems like great subject matter for this blog.  Readers may recall previous “Astronomy in Art & Architecture” posts for Milwaukee (Wisconsin), Minneapolis (Minnesota), and Covington (Kentucky).  Generally speaking, instances of public math and science (meaning something more than generic stars on the ceiling of a building) have turned out to be rarer than I would have expected before I started looking for them.

But this past March I found an instance of public math and science in a place I hardly expected—the airport in Newark, New Jersey.  There, amid the fluorescent-light-illuminated steel gray and beige surroundings of the airport, were large, colorful paintings featuring air-and-space themes.  These were a most welcome sight!  They also included some material that was pure astronomy, and even some that was history of astronomy.

Two of these wall paintings are shown below.  If you ever have a five-hour layover in the Newark airport, go see if you can find them.  Bravo for the Newark airport for having some public art that features math and science.

One of the air-and-space paintings in the Newark airport that features a little astronomy content.

One of the air-and-space paintings in the Newark airport that features a little astronomy content.

The left-hand side of the painting features Mars, Saturn, and the Andromeda galaxy.

The right-hand side of the painting features Mars, Saturn, and the Andromeda galaxy.

The right-hand side of the painting features constellations, and what appears to be a portion of a moon map showing the crater Kepler.

The left-hand side of the painting features constellations, and what appears to be a portion of a moon map showing the crater Kepler.

Another Newark airport painting with some astronomical content.

Another Newark airport painting with some astronomical content.

Is that Galileo in the center of this painting?  It just might be!

Is that Galileo in the center of this painting?  It just might be!

One of the terminals of the Newark airport.  A little color, a little art, is a wonderful thing to encounter when one is spending hours between flights in an airport!   

One of the terminals of the Newark airport.  A little color, a little art, is a wonderful thing to encounter when one is spending hours between flights in an airport!

 

Digging up Astronomical Fossils
avatar

Imagine looking up at the night sky. With our own eyes we can see at most a few thousand of the nearest stars to us. Now consider looking through a large telescope with a very large field of view. Through such an instrument millions of objects come into view, with most of these objects being galaxies, not stars.

Interestingly, galaxies are not scattered randomly about the sky, as one might expect. Rather, they trace out a structure that looks a bit like a 3D spider web, called by astronomers the “cosmic web.” Fair enough. The story gets more interesting though when we find out that the mean separation between galaxies, equating roughly to the mean separation between the threads of a spider web, was set early on in the universe’s history.

When the universe was only about 370,000 years old, various sound waves that traversed its extent were frozen into place by changing physical conditions. Astronomers maintain that events that happened at this time established the mean distance between the galaxies long before the first galaxy would ever form. These so-called Baryon Acoustic Oscillations (BAOs), named "acoustic" for their sound wave origin, refer to the physical signature of these ancient sound waves expressed in the universe today.

Put another way, just as archaeologists disinter dinosaur bones to learn about human history, astronomers measure the mean distance between galaxies to learn about the distant and early history of the universe. This work is carried out by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) Extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS), a large program which offers free public access to all of its data sets worldwide. If time allows, try visiting the website at legacysurvey.org, enter in your favorite coordinates in the upper right, and enjoy exploring the distant universe.

New Cassini Module in NASA Eyes App
avatar

Cassini at Saturn

Cassini at Saturn. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley

The new Cassini Mission module is live in the NASA Eyes on the Solar System app! The module is JAM-PACKED with features, including a cinematic simulation the entire 20-year mission, images of Saturn, its rings and moons, an interactive timeline - where you can follow the spacecraft throughout its mission, and simulations of several Cassini Grand Finale events.

2017 Eclipse Detroit

Eclipse 2017 Module. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley

NASA Eyes is a free app for the PC/MAC and a GREAT educational tool. With NASA Eyes, you can go to any planet in our solar system, many moons, asteroids, and comets. You can zoom to several different active space missions, and simulate what they are doing in real-time, or fast-forward or backward to any point in their mission; several missions have built-in tours - like Cassini. There's a module about the 2017 eclipse, and the Eyes on the Earth module has several different visualizations of climate data. The Eyes on Exoplanets module lets you zoom to hundreds of different exoplanet systems, see what they look like, and how they compare to the solar system.

Eyes on Exoplanets Hot Jupiter

Eyes on Exoplanets Hot Jupiter. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley

NASA Eyes is a wonderful resource for generating images and videos for articles and presentations; it's great fun to play with, but be warned: it seems to somehow warp the flow of time around the observer - you can get so involved playing with the app, you won't realize where the time went! I wrote about NASA Eyes in a previous article here.

More info on the NASA Eyes Cassini module, and download: http://eyes.nasa.gov/cassini

I maintain the unofficial Facebook page for NASA Eyes, and there is an official twitter feed.

Screenshots from the NASA Eyes Cassini module:

Across the Universe: Shapes of Things
avatar

This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2015

In May of 2015, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona honored the retirement of Dr. Randy Jokipii, Regent’s Professor of Planetary Sciences… and the man who directed my doctoral dissertation.

My dissertation advisor, Randy Jokipii

It’s customary at such events to downplay the scientific work of the honoree, and praise instead the “life lessons” taught. But Randy was not my father, my pastor, or my guru; he taught me physics. I chose to work for him for the simple reason that I thought he was the smartest guy in the department. (I still think so.) His field, cosmic ray physics, was far from what I had done before… or since. That was another attraction: I wanted to be challenged to learn new stuff.

I got what I wanted. Under his direction I spent two years applying techniques that he’d invented for tracing cosmic rays in solar system magnetic fields, to the trickier problem of the dynamics of dust grains in turbulent clouds of gas and dust as they form into stars. My dissertation was no great breakthrough (though even after 40 years the work still gets cited). We were the first to do a lot of it; others since have done it better. That’s how science works.

What I remember are not our results, but the way that Randy made me come up with them. Rather than writing complex computer models to calculate the path of this ion or that dust particle, he forced me to learn how to derive the general equations. He wasn’t interested in specific answers to specific situations, but rather the overall “shape” of what the answers could be expected to look like.

That meant I had to learn how to simplify the problem into one that we could handle, identifying the bits that were essential and setting aside the more incidental aspects. Only then could I solve those equations, using higher mathematics like Bessel Functions or Kolmogorov Analysis.

A J32 Bessel function, as illustrated on a web site from Northern Arizona University. Think sines and cosines in cylindrical space...

I’d learned about sines and cosines in high school; it turns out, Bessel’s functions work much the same way for different kinds of geometry. It was fascinating to experience, close up, how there can be more than one way to solve an equation – and when it’s easier and faster to use such exotic functions. With that kind of analysis, the bits that really give shape to the problem stand out from the bits that just smooth off the rough edges.

Kolmogorov analysis was even more surprising to me. It deals with how systems that are turbulent, or random, can nonetheless be analyzed mathematically. Just because a given event is fundamentally unpredictable doesn’t mean the average of many such events can’t follow predictable patterns.

As any baker knows, mixing things up in a blender leads to a homogenous mix; but every now and then it will also accelerate some droplets to fly out of the mixing bowl. In space, those “droplets” can be electrons accelerated by turbulent magnetic fields up to the fantastic energies of cosmic rays. In the early solar system, they can be clouds of dust spread spread into interesting orbits. In fact, the first practical application of our results came when we realized that they could explain the shape and size of the dust rings around Jupiter, which had just been discovered by the Voyager spacecraft soon after I’d finished my thesis.

Jokipii’s approach to physics taught me how to simplify; how to apply non-standard functions to solve non-standard problems; how to look for, and appreciate, the general shape of a given situation, rather than always trying to come up with pat answers for a given here-and-now. He taught me how even the blandest blend can also toss off moments of great excitement.

Maybe he did teach me life lessons, after all.

The Disappearing Star
avatar

And now for the next trick, we will make a star disappear! Astronomers have just discovered a star in the Galaxy that is losing brightness fast.

Although generally stable, a star can and does vary in brightness every so slightly during the adult phase of its lifetime. A star can slowly increase in brightness as it builds up more nuclear fusion products in its stellar center. This happens to all stars. For the Sun this amounts to a 30 percent increase in brightness since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. Eventually, in another 1 billion years, the Sun will be so hot that it will boil away the oceans (but let us not digress).

Secondly, many stars brighten and fade on regular timescales of hours to years. These are wee brightness changes amounting to about 0.1 - 1 percent of the total flux on average, with some more extreme cases known especially for the smallest stars. There is one attribute I have not mentioned: stellar dimming. Stars cannot lose brightness.

This is why it is particularly interesting news that astronomer Tabetha Boyajian of Lousiana State University has recently discovered a star that has lost a whopping 15 percent of its total flux in the past century. There are very few plausible explanations.

It is tempting to say that the star is surrounded by a ring of gas and dust, as is typical of young stars, except that this star is middle-aged like the Sun. Also a ring of dust will shine in infrared light but this disk does not have any infrared signature. One could also posit that there is a giant swarm of comets in-falling into that inner star system, except then it would be hard to explain the sustained dimming over the past century.

There is even a bizarre idea floating around that it is a message from an alien civilization. Let’s not go there yet, as astronomers should fall back on such an explanation only after all else fails. The best idea at the moment is that it is swallowing a planet.

It is not uncommon for planets to “migrate” from the outer to inner parts of stellar system. In this scenario, a close (but not collisional) interaction of a star with another star can disrupt the orbit of a planet enough to send it hurling into its center. This would cause a temporary brightening of the star, followed by a relatively speedy recovery to its normal brightness. It is in this phase following the crash and before it has settled down again that we see Boyajian's star.

If so, then this is the first of its class. Perhaps astronomers will now be cued in to try to find other such examples of planets dying in this spectacular way, and eventually to witness a crash. Hopefully it will be from a safe distance.

A Slice of Solar Drawing in h-alpha
avatar

Prom drawings by Deirdre Kelleghan May 3rd 2017

Prom at 14:20 UT and again at 15 :17 UT May 3rd 2017 PST 40 / 8 mm eyepiece / 50 X - Pastel and Conte on Black Card

On my 50th birthday my better half gave me a present of a PST 40 (Personal Solar Telescope) with a 40 mm objective. This gift was literally a piece of visual heaven. Since I acquired this fabulous instrument my work with it has always been drawing. Drawing the sun or even drawing features on the sun is without a doubt the biggest challenge in astronomical drawing.

Here is the thing, the telescope objective is just 40 mm, the sun as I see it is only about 30 mm of that 40mm to the eye. Using an 8 mm eyepiece gives about a 50X magnification and therefore the best view of the features and action on the disc and on the limb. There is no point whatsoever in drawing something at a diameter of 30 mm unless you provide your viewers with magnifying glasses or the object is a daisy. Therefore I work mostly at dinner plate size, sometimes at side plate size, and occasionally at CD size. Drawing at this size at least gives me room to draw directly from my eye to the page keeping faithful to accuracy. What I see I draw, nothing is ever added or taken away,it is what it is.

In drawing the sun I am dealing with prominences,filaments and active regions that in reality are hundreds of thousands of kilometres long ,wide,and high. However to my eye they are tiny fractions of millimetres for the most part. Then there is the mottling, millions of dots all over the sun which seem to line themselves up with magnetic field lines emanating from active regions. These dots are the bane of my solar drawing life. They are the features that are most difficult to capture in a h-alpha drawing as the patterns they make are very complex and are all over the disc. They are known as spicules when viewed on the edge of the limb but fibrils when viewed on the disc. These are tubes of gas rising up to 10,000 km above the solar disc on the limb or on the disc (as fibrils). The same activity in a different position on the sun.They are short-lived tubes of energy held together by magnetic force . Think of them like thousands of kilometre high straws with invisible walls. They appear to the eye as tiny dots face on however they are carrying super heated gases, moving at circa 20 km per second upwards for 15 to 20 minutes covering up to 10,000 km in height before collapsing back the way they came. This action is going on all over the sun all the time, in non active regions these are known as mottles. It is difficult to imagine what it must be like. It is a demonstration of power contained, power sustained,one facet in the mesmerizing action on our star.

Hedgerow and Filaprom sketch by Deirdre Kelleghan

Sketch East limb proms 93,000000 miles away from Bray Co Wicklow January 12th 2012 10:50 UT - 11:20UT PST 40 / 8mm TVP eyepiece /50 X Pastel and Conte on black paper Seeing good Sketch is 9 inches X 4 inches on A4 . Hedgerow Proms and a Filaprom by Deirdre Kelleghan

In another example prominences and filaments are also the same activity sharing a duality in naming. Eruptions of charged hydrogen and helium gas (plasma) viewed on the limb are known as prominences while the same actions seen against the disc are known as filaments. The visual hybrids are known as filaproms, i.e. eruptions of gas from an active region that is usually close to the limb. In these cases the erupting gases rise up appearing dark against the disc (a filament) because the material is cooler against the hotter disc below. That powerful expulsion of gases then arcs its way over the limb appearing bright against the blackness of space (a prominence) .Viewing these particular actions sometimes offers a three-dimensional appearance to the eye. These events clearly show the distances above the chromosphere which these massive prominences can travel. Occasionally enormous prominences leave the sun entirely and send their particles to collide with particles in our Earth's atmosphere producing the aurora borealis for lucky observers to relish.

While observing you do not see eruptions moving in real-time because of the distance between the eye and the sun. However if you observe and sketch something of interest,wait about 15 minutes and repeat the drawing you will see changes.For me this is most interesting when there are proms on the limb making interesting twisting shapes. The gas seems to make loops, beside loops,beside loops. They whip up and out from the limb creating twists like ropes with both fine and thick bundles to watch. Often it's the empty spaces in those loops that help my drawing to be as accurate as I can make it. The prominence loops form because the gas is following the shape of invisible magnetic loops. In a way these eruptions reveal the shapes of the suns magnetic activity. Mostly eruptions of gas from the sun are in arc shapes anchored in two places, rooted to the sun by magnetism. Within this arc there may be many arcs busy above the disc. It is an enrapturing visual experience and an equally compelling task to capture these features on paper. The effort of drawing involves many repeated views of the same tiny area , along with continuous repeated tuning and focusing in order to get the clearest view possible.

Observing the sun can be a very dangerous, no viewing of the solar disc should be carried out without a highly filtered telescope in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing.
If you have never had the opportunity to observe the sun in a h-alpha telescope you should try to create that moment for yourself. Seek out someone who has an instrument like this so you can indulge yourself with the intricacies of our mother star. Your local astronomy club or public observatory would be the first place I would go for safe incredible views . Your eyeball and our sun,millions of miles distant but up close and personal.

 

A V.O. Conference on Black Holes, Gravitational Waves, and Spacetime Singularities
avatar

Do you recall the post from a while back that focused on the research being done by Vatican Observatory scientists? This is another “Science at the V.O.” post. From the evening of Monday May 8 through the morning of Friday May 12 the V.O. hosted a conference entitled “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves, and Spacetime Singularities”. The conference was organized by Dr. Gabriele Gionti, S. J.

Dr. Gabriele Gionti, S.J.

Dr. Gabriele Gionti, S.J.

When I was visiting the V.O. in March I had the pleasure of meeting, talking with, and even hanging out at an Albano Laziale coffee shop expounding upon Kentucky community college life to, Fr. Gionti. Gionti is a native of Italy who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in physics in the 1990’s, joined the Jesuits in 2000, was assigned to the V.O. in 2004, and ordained a priest in 2010. Since joining the Jesuits he has picked up several more degrees, in philosophy and theology. Gionti is a very educated man, but if you are imagining him as some sort of aloof genius who wanders around with his head in the clouds, well imagine instead an approachable, soft-spoken but very conversational fellow wandering through the town square in a hoodie sweatshirt.

Gionti’s conference was in part to celebrate the legacy of Fr. Georges Lemaître, the Belgian priest who, building on Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, first theorized about the idea now known as “The Big Bang”. Indeed the first talk of the conference was by the historian of science Helge Kragh, who spoke on “The scientific life of Georges Lemaître”.

The V.O.’s web page for the conference states:

The recent detection of gravitational waves has opened a new window in our understanding of the Universe, and it has also excited new speculations on the true nature of the singularities that signal the breakdown of the classical description of the spacetime at the beginning of the universe and at the endpoint of gravitational collapse. What are the current limits of modern scientific cosmology? What are the real scientific challenges that can be explored in the near future? The main goal of this workshop is to encourage interaction among the participants, between theory and observation, and to provide a stimulating and thought-provoking environment for new ideas.

Speakers and topics included:

Helge Kragh: The scientific life of Georges Lemaitre
Alex Filippenko: Type Ia Supernovae, Dark Energy, and the Hubble Constant
Nicola Vittorio: Strong evidence for an accelerating universe
Astrid Eichhorn: The asymptotic safety paradigm for quantum spacetime and matter
Francesca Vidotto: Measuring the last burst of non-singular black holes
Edmund Bertschinger: The Internal Structure of Spinning Black Holes
Roberto Casadio: Horizon Quantum Mechanics for spherically symmetric and rotating sources
Krzysztof Meissner: Conformal anomaly and gravitational waves
Alessia Platania: Cosmic Censorship in Quantum Einstein Gravity
Nicholas Suntzeff: The Observer’s Universe
Gerard ‘t Hooft: Virtual Black Holes and space-time structure
Georgi Dvali: Secret Quantum Life of Black Holes
Giovanni A. Prodi: Gravitational waves searches by the network of ground-based interferometers
Renata Kallosh: From the sky to the fundamental physics
Joe Silk: The Limits of Cosmology
Donato Bini: Black hole perturbations: a review of recent analytical results
Zoltan Haiman: Merging Supermassive Black Hole Binaries
Achim Kempf: How can the singularities of black holes and of cosmologies be regulated without breaking local Lorentz invariance?
Paolo Salucci: Supermassive Black Holes in Galaxies. A portal to the nature of dark matter?
Michael Turner: Looking beyond ΛCDM to solve the big mysteries in cosmology
Roger Penrose: The Big Bang and its Dark-Matter Content: Whence, Whither, and Wherefore
Andrei Linde: Inflation: Theory and Observations
George Ellis: The Standard Cosmological Model: Its nature, and Queries
Alessandra Buonanno: Observing the Signature of Dynamical Space-Time through Gravitational Waves
Luigi Stella: Probing the strong gravitational field of accreting black holes with X-ray observations
Elisa Bortolas: Massive Black Hole Binaries and their Hosts: a common journey towards Gravitational Waves Alexander Kamenshchik: Singularity crossing, transformation of matter properties and the problem of parametrization in field theories Miok Park: Energent Metric from the Kitaeve Superconductor Model
Frank Saueressig: Cosmic perturbations from Asymptotic Safety
François Bouchet: 50 years of CMB research: what is next?

That sounds like one pretty cool conference—made all the cooler by its location at the V.O. in Italy.

 

 

Environmental Ethics and Ethos. The RSE Symposia on the Adriatic and Baltic Seas.
avatar

One of the newest fields of theology and philosophy is Environmental Ethics. In addition to being new, this field is also one of the more challenging subjects to keep current. The reason for this difficulty is that the rapid growth of technology often outpaces our ability to reflect on a given technology's moral implications. This lag between the advancement of technology and the moral implications of technology have, at times, allowed for great damage to be done to our environment.

This tension between technological advancement and environmental crisis led the members of the Religion, Science, and Environment Symposia (RSE) to organize two events to accomplish two main goals: The development of ethical principles to address ecological issues and the development of an environmental ethos to inspire people to put those ethics into action. Once again, the spiritual leader of these symposia was Patriarch Bartholomew and the locations of the symposia were the Adriatic Sea and the Baltic Sea. The RSE Symposium on the Adriatic Sea held in 2002 identified as its primary goal the development of an environmental ethic, while the development of an environmental ethos would be the primary task of the Baltic Sea Symposium in 2003.

The Adriatic Sea has a rich history, bordering the five countries of Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania. The waterways were central to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, involving clashes with the Vandals, Huns, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, the Slavs, and the Ottoman Turks. In many ways, the Adriatic Sea can be seen as a symbolic backdrop for some of the most crucial moments in the history of Europe. (For a more detailed summary of this history, click here.)

In regard to the environment of the Adriatic Sea, the tension between human development and the natural environment is ongoing. One of the main areas of tension is in and around the city of Venice. Most think of Venice as the city of river streets with gondoliers who serenade their passengers on their journey. The same waters that provide for a romantic backdrop have also been the flash point for major environmental struggles.

One of the key struggles in the region of Venice that illustrates the lag between human development and ethics to govern that development is the destruction of wetlands and estuarine (transitional areas where rivers and sea water meet, providing rich ecological habitats). For example, to combat the outbreak of malaria in Venice, it was decided that the watery homes of the insects that carried this disease would be destroyed, removing the fertile grounds for this disease to spread. The plan worked and the malaria outbreak was curbed, but the destruction of these wetlands and estuarine also devastated other local species and disrupted the migration paths of birds between Europe and North Africa. In hindsight, the question lingers: Would there have been a way to eradicate malaria without devastating crucial wetlands and estuarine? These environmental concerns, along with questions about fishing and navigational rights, were central, local concerns for the RSE Symposium.

From the local concerns of the Adriatic came principles that were applied universally. One of the groundbreaking moments of the Adriatic Symposium was a common declaration between Patriarch Bartholomew and St. John Paul II. St. John Paul II called this declaration the most important act of his papacy for that year. At the end of this declaration are six ethical goals that have become foundational for the ongoing development of Environmental Ethics.

1. To think of the world's children when we reflect on and evaluate our options for action.

2. To be open to study the true values based on the natural law that sustain every human culture.

3. To use science and technology in a full and constructive way, while recognizing that the findings of science have always to be evaluated in the light of the centrality of the human person, of the common good and of the inner purpose of creation. Science may help us to correct the mistakes of the past, in order to enhance the spiritual and material well-being of the present and future generations. It is love for our children that will show us the path that we must follow into the future.

4. To be humble regarding the idea of ownership and to be open to the demands of solidarity. Our mortality and our weakness of judgement together warn us not to take irreversible actions with what we choose to regard as our property during our brief stay on this earth. We have not been entrusted with unlimited power over creation, we are only stewards of the common heritage.

5. To acknowledge the diversity of situations and responsibilities in the work for a better world environment. We do not expect every person and every institution to assume the same burden. Everyone has a part to play, but for the demands of justice and charity to be respected the most affluent societies must carry the greater burden, and from them is demanded a sacrifice greater than can be offered by the poor. Religions, governments and institutions are faced by many different situations; but on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity all of them can take on some tasks, some part of the shared effort.

6. To promote a peaceful approach to disagreement about how to live on this earth, about how to share it and use it, about what to change and what to leave unchanged. It is not our desire to evade controversy about the environment, for we trust in the capacity of human reason and the path of dialogue to reach agreement. We commit ourselves to respect the views of all who disagree with us, seeking solutions through open exchange, without resorting to oppression and domination. (Common Declaration signed by Patriarch Bartholomew and St. John Paul II)

Patriarch Bartholomew and St. John Paul II. Image Credit: Plinio Lepri / AP

When reading these six ethical goals, one can easily hear some of the core themes of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's writings on Human Ecology and Pope Francis' emphasis on Integral Ecology in Laudato Si'. Though the agreement by Bartholomew and St. John Paul II may lack specificity about "does and don'ts," the principles represent broad, commonly agreed upon themes that have been foundational for recent developments in Environmental Ethics. (For a full recap of the 2002 symposium, I have provided this 46 minute video for your enjoyment - I would suggest you read the entire blog first and then return to the video.)



The dumping of chemical agents into the Baltic Sea. Image Credit: AP Photo/ courtesy of the U.S. Army via The Daily Press

If the primary fruit of the 2002 Symposium on the Adriatic Sea was to establish an environmental ethic, the 2003 Symposium on the Baltic Sea hoped to tap into an environmental ethos. Of all the bodies of water visited, the Baltic Sea was the perfect place to try and develop a passion based ethos of change. After World War II, Britain, France, the United States, and Russia dumped the stockpiles of chemical weapons confiscated from Germany into the Baltic Sea. Three-hundred tons of chemical agents, including sarin gas and mustard gas, were cast to the bottom of the sea with their containers slowly corroding ever since. Again, we see the lag between human development and an ethical structure to govern that development. After World War II, it was rightly determined that Hitler's stockpiles had to be neutralized. However, the longterm ramifications of these toxins on the Baltic Sea were not taken into account, essentially leaving an ecological time bomb at the bottom of these waters that is a threat to this day. (For more insight, read these articles from The Economist and the Smithsonian Magazine).

In light of these and other ecological issues in the Baltic, the symposium establishing key goals to protect these vital waters.

• Limit the discharges into the sea of excess nutrients that cause eutrophication and are harmful to the marine biosphere.

• Stop the discharge of toxic chemicals into the sea.

• Stop the careless introduction of non-native species of fish and other organisms that threaten marine ecosystems and existing species.

• Stop the over-fishing, habitat destruction and other factors that threaten fisheries, and establish a network of marine protected areas in the Baltic.

• Reduce the risks associated with the transportation of hazardous substances across the Baltic Sea; double-hull and clean-ship technologies are urgently needed to avoid oil-spill

• Enhance the capacity of the Baltic Sea states in transition to monitor, assess and manage their marine ecosystems.

• Increase awareness of the sea’s problems and engage in education and actions to eliminate them.

Similar to the Adriatic Symposium, the addressing of local environmental issues led to the development of universal environmental principles. This time, however, the goal was to establish an environmental ethos. This raises an important question: How does one establish an environmental ethos of acting on environmental ethics?

One of the themes from both the 2002 and 2003 Symposia was to focus upon the impact our environmental choices have upon children. The idea was that when our environmental choices are shown to adversely impact the innocent, then a deep passion can be formed in the human heart to change our ecological choices. In other words, the establishment of an environmental ethos is to also spark an ecological movement, creating social momentum to enact substantial change of behavior toward the environment. In a presentation offered by Stefan Edman, a passionate plea was made for people of faith and people of science to embrace a "wonder-revolution" to spark new energy to transform our global attitudes toward the environment.

Dear friends, there is an acute need for such a “wonder-revolution” in our hectic, economistic culture. A lot of people today live far away from nature – smells, birdsong, silence, starry skies - not understanding their deep old roots in the natural eco-cycle systems. Many of them are decision makers, in politics and economy, belonging to the dominant middle-class putting the standard of values in our societies. Science, art and theology – in good synergy – should promote a renewed culture of wondering. Giving inspiration to our struggle for the environment. Promoting a deeper existential base for our lives. Turning us from the ideology of consumerism to contentedness, being more satisfied with what we have, as a holy gift. Such a new attitude and reformed lifestyle will strengthen the health not only of the planet Earth, for example the Baltic Sea – but also our own somatic and mental ecosystems. Wel-fare has today often become bad-fare; people give themselves too little time to rest, to love, only to “live” without being profitable and productive; and so many of us will be exhausted or even burned out. Thus: Inner and outer environment are interdependent. The more harmonic we are, the more energy we are able to deliver in saving the external ecosystems – and vice versa. (Stefan Edman, Presentation: From wonder to action and hope – a new alliance between science and religion? )

This language of "wonder-revolution" serves as a powerful image to create ecological ethos. I also find this plea speaks to the fundamental tension in all of morality and ethics: It is one thing to know what we ought to do, but a different matter all together to do what we ought to do.

This idea of a "wonder-revolution" speaks to what I see as a core issue when exploring Environmental Ethics and Ethos: Given the grave risk science shows us can happen when we abuse the environment, why isn't the passion to change this reality stronger in our world (or at least in the United States)? The Symposia from the Adriatic Sea and the Baltic Sea show that much progress has been made in establishing Environmental Ethics and Ethos. However, there is also much that needs to be done.

Personally, one of my fears is that human nature tends to embrace a passion based ethos only in the face of crisis. When we see a crisis before us, regardless of what that crisis is, we are more prone to act than when there is no crisis in front of us. Part of the solution of moving people from a crisis based "wonder-revolution" to a proactive, conservation "wonder-revolution" must be found through a spiritual worldview of solidarity and future-looking solidarity, seeking to share the wonder of our world with all peoples, now and in the future. I find this proactive approach necessary because if we wait until crisis to embrace an environmental ethos, it may be too late to reverse damage to our common home and the human family.

This week, let us pray that our world will embrace the lessons learned from both symposia held on the Adriatic Sea and the Baltic Sea. May we embrace a "wonder-revolution" to spark an environmental ethos to move the human heart away from apathy and toward a desire to be good stewards of creation. And may we see in Pope Francis' call to Integral Ecology, the ongoing development of the themes established by the RSE Symposium and Patriarch Bartholomew.

To view a full summary of the Baltic Sea symposium, I have provided the video below. Enjoy!

Also in Integral Ecology

  1. Human Ecology: What Is It?
  2. Laudato Si’ – Encyclical on Ecology: Post #1: Let’s All Take a Deep Breath
  3. Laudato Si’ – Post #2: Introduction and Chapter One: A Plea for Action.
  4. Laudato Si’ – Post #3: Chapter Two – Pope Francis and the Last March of the Ents
  5. Laudato Si’ – Post #4: Chapters Three and Four – Unmasking Radical Anthropocentrism.
  6. Laudato Si’ – Post #5: Chapter 5 – Politics, Religion, and Science at the Dinner Table? Yes, When Dinning With Pope Francis!
  7. Laudato Si’: Final Post – Chapter Six: Broadening Our Language of Reverence.
  8. What Happens if the Earth Dies? Astronomy, Ecology, and Social Change.
  9. What Can the Sun Do to Us? Solar Flares, Technology, and Pope Francis.
  10. Amid Creation’s Groaning, There is Hope: Exploring The Intimate Connection Between God And Creation During Advent.
  11. COP21: Understanding the Paris Climate Change Conference in Light of Laudato Si’.
  12. Seeing is Believing: The Role Astronomy Plays in Understanding Global Climate Change.
  13. When the Heavens and Earth Were Sacred: Recapturing a Sacramental Worldview.
  14. Give Drink To The Thirsty: Ecology, Astronomy, And The Year of Mercy
  15. Reading Creation: Exploring The Book of Nature and The Book of Scripture (Part One)
  16. Reading Creation: Exploring The Book of Nature and The Book of Scripture (Part Two)
  17. Priests of Creation: Reclaiming Biblical Ecology through Maximus the Confessor
  18. Astronomy, Ecology, and Social Ethics: Looking at Climate Trends for 2016
  19. Why Introduce Works of Mercy About the Environment?
  20. The Ratzinger Foundation and Ecology: Moving Toward a New Ecological Index Based on Laudato Si’.
  21. Just How “Green” Is Christianity? Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Patriarch Bartholomew
  22. The Book of Revelation and the Environment: 1995 Waterborne Symposium – Aegean Sea
  23. When Religion and Science Sought To Save The Black Sea: 1997 Waterborne Symposium
  24. Earth Day and Catholicism: What Is A Christian To Do?
  25. Ideology Vs. Environment: What the Danube River can teach us about faith, ecology, politics, and human dignity.
  26. Environmental Ethics and Ethos. The RSE Symposia on the Adriatic and Baltic Seas.

View the entire series

From the Cabinet of Physics: Reflection and Invisible Waves
avatar

In the 19th century, James Clark Maxwell's theory explained the inter-relation of electricity and magnetism. It also predicted that electromagnetic waves should exist. In the 1880s Heinrich Hertz worked in the laboratory to produce these waves, and to measure their properties.

The Cabinet of Physics can demonstrate experiments similar to some of Hertz's. The transmitter is a spark gap driven by an induction coil; the receiver includes a Marconi-style coherer (remember the coherer?).

The coherer is part of a circuit containing a battery-powered bell. So when waves from the transmitter arrive at the receiver, the coherer transitions from being a bad conductor of electricity into being a good conductor, and we hear the bell ringing. It keeps ringing until a sharp whack returns the coherer to its original state.

In today's video, the curators first use this setup to show that interposing a sheet of copper reflects away the waves from the transmitter. The receiver's coherer detects nothing, and the bell remains silent.

Next the apparatus is arranged so the transmitter is no longer aimed at the receiver, but instead at the copper sheet. The receiver, also aimed at the copper sheet, rings its bell. By similar means, Hertz was able to demonstrate that conductive objects could reflect the invisible waves, just as a mirror reflects light.

In the 20th century, such waves became known as "radio" or "wireless." The principles demonstrated here lie at the heart of antenna design, using conducting materials to reflect and shape radio waves in a great variety of ways. Among other devices, the huge antennas of today's radio astronomy descend from Hertz's experiments.

The notion that a receiver might catch a signal bounced off a passive conductor also hints at the idea of radar–though to make radar work, technology well beyond the apparatus seen here would eventually be required.

The Foundation for Science and Technics, or Fondazione Scienza e Tecnica, of Florence, Italy, has made available many videos exploring the Cabinet of Physics, a large collection of antique scientific demonstration instruments.  The Foundation's homepage may be found here, and its Youtube channel, florencefst, here.

Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
avatar

This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2014

In a recent [2014!] homily, Pope Francis used a colorful image to describe how the early Church reacted when gentiles approached the apostles and asked to be baptized. Imagine, he suggested, if “a Martian with a big nose and big ears came up and asked for baptism. What would you do?” Naturally, the press decided that the Pope had just endorsed extraterrestrial baptisms. Journalists with access to the internet added a few choice links to similar quotes of mine from years ago.

The Catholic parody site Eye of the Tiber carried the news of the Pope's homily, quoting me in the process! (Click here to read their article.) They were no less accurate than a lot of non-parody sites...

I can’t complain, really. “Would you baptize an extraterrestrial?” is a wonderful starting place to explore the meaning of baptism and redemption. I used the analogy myself in May of 2014, addressing the graduating class of Georgetown University, where my final exhortation was to “be prepared to be surprised.” (Not surprisingly, we have a book with that question as its title, which came out in fall 2014.)

But a number of recent scientific discoveries have advanced the astronomical side of the issue as well.

The Kepler space telescope team has announced a discovery of a planet around another star that is the closest yet found for a twin to Earth. Kepler 186f is only about ten percent larger than Earth, and it orbits its star at just the right distance to let oceans of liquid water survive on its surface. (It is the sixth planet discovered so far around its parent star, hence the designation “f” after the star name, candidate star 186 in the field of view measured by Kepler.) The star itself is a red dwarf, cooler and dimmer than our sun; but the planet orbits closer to it than Earth’s distance from our sun, taking only 130 (Earth) days to complete a planetary year.

This combination of getting the star brightness and distance just right, sometimes called the “Goldilocks zone”, is based on our understanding of life’s chemistry. Earth-like life needs certain chemical elements such as carbon and oxygen and hydrogen; most rocks have at least traces of these. And then it needs a medium like liquid water where these elements can form into organic compounds. Finally, it needs an energy source (ultimately, food) to keep the compounds alive. Hence the search for a planet with liquid water.

But in fact all those requirements can be met even far from a star. We know that Jupiter and Saturn have moons made of rock and ice; by various means, the ice deep inside those moons can melt even while their remote location keeps their surface ices frigid. And the same tidal flexing or radioactive cores that melt the ice can also provide energy for food — we see life deep in Earth’s oceans living off the energy of volcanic vents. For forty years we’ve thought about life in these moons’ deep oceans.

But an essential missing ingredient is free oxygen, which is only produced when water is exposed to sunlight. Thus it was exciting to discover water plumes over Saturn’s moon Enceladus and, first announced last December, water vapor over Jupiter’s moon Europa. The water itself was no surprise; the excitement was seeing this water being exposed to sunlight. Both moons are lively places to look for life.

Meanwhile, the Mars rovers continue to flesh our our understanding of that planet’s geology. The ones now on the surface aren’t designed to find life, but rather to help us plan where to look for life with the next generation of rovers. Recently I got to review a number of proposals for organic-hunting instruments on a rover to be sent to Mars in 2020.

Finding life off Earth will be a surprise. But to never find it elsewhere would be equally surprising. In either case, we won’t know unless we look. One needs to be prepared, to be surprised.

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

View the entire series