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Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
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This column first ran in The Tablet in March 2016

We celebrated last year's anniversary with a cake!

It has been a month of anniversaries.

Exactly four hundred years ago (2016) Galileo first got into hot water with the Church over the Copernican system. Starting with a hearing of the Holy Office on 23 February, the affair stretched across all of spring 1616 including Galileo’s meeting with Cardinal Bellarmine on 26 February, and the formal censure of Copernicus’ work issued on 5 March. Curiously, Galileo’s works were not mentioned at that time.

(It wasn’t Galileo’s first run-in with the Church. In 1604 he had been turned in to the Inquisition by his mother, who didn’t like the bad names he’d called her or the fact that he’d skip Mass to spend time with his courtesan girlfriend, later mother to his three children.)

By the end of the 19th century, of course, the Church view on astronomy had changed. Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879) essentially endorsed Galileo’s view on science and religion. And on 14 March 1891, 125 years ago  (2016), Pope Leo promulgated a “Motu Proprio” that established the modern Vatican Observatory. Two months later, his encyclical Rerum Novarum would mark a new beginning of the Church’s engagement with the modern world.

Finally, just thirty years ago  (2016) this month, on 15 March 1986, the Vatican Secretariat of State informed the Vatican Observatory that Pope John Paul II had given his blessing to build the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope. Since then, that telescope on a remote Arizona mountaintop has been our mainstay for astronomical observations.

Birthdays and anniversaries are a time to reflect on where we’ve been and how we’ve changed over the years. At the time of Galileo, astronomy meant cosmology, the philosophical basis of how we understood our place in the universe. Thus questions of astronomy took on a philosophical and theological significance.

But our cosmological ideas moved from Copernicus’ fixed sun, through Kepler’s elliptical orbits, to Kant’s idea of galaxies as island universes and Herschel’s measurement of our place in the Milky Way. Our modern speculations about multiple universes carry as much a tinge of science fiction as of natural philosophy. One lesson I hope we’ve learned is that no modern cosmology is a good basis for theological doctrine, simply because no matter how well founded our astronomy is we can expect it will eventually go out of date.

What is striking to me is the development of the Church’s attitude towards astronomy. After the Galileo affair showed the danger of too-close ties between science and theology, Pope Leo XII’s reasons to establish an observatory were primarily as a way of shoring up the reputation of the Church. He was responding to the late Victorian view that science and religion were somehow inevitably at war, a quaint idea held today only by journalists and the occasional elderly Oxford biologist.

Over the last hundred years, however, the emphasis of the Church’s role in astronomy has changed from mere public relations to a recognition that astronomy is a Good Thing in its own right, as a way of coming closer to the Creator. One of the earliest examples of this attitude can be found in an address of Pope Pius XII to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1939, where he mused, “Man ascents to God by climbing the ladder of the Universe.”

Closing the loop, in 2008 Pope Benedict XVI approved how “Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God, in the same way that Scripture has God as its author.” Of course, this echoes St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Since the beginning of time, God has revealed Himself in the things He has created.”

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: Treasure from Heaven
  70. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  71. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  72. Across the Universe: Awareness
  73. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  74. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  75. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  76. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  77. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  78. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  79. Across the Universe: Changelings
  80. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  81. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  82. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  83. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  84. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  85. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  86. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  87. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  88. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  89. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  90. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  91. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  92. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  93. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  94. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  95. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  96. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  97. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  98. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  99. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  100. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  101. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  102. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  103. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  104. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  105. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  106. Across the Universe: View from afar
  107. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  108. Across the Universe: Global warning
  109. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  110. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  111. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  112. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us

View the entire series

An Urgent Plea: Pray for Peru.
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Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II

Originally, I had planned this post to be a light-hearted reflection on stargazing in the southern hemisphere. The parish of which I am Pastor, St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, took a ten-day mission trip to our Diocesan Orphanage, Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II, in Lurin, Peru. In light of my past mission trips to Casa, I was already mapping out a post for the The Catholic Astronomer before departure. However, events from the trip forced a change of theme.

One afternoon, I was offering spiritual direction to a Casa staff volunteer. We were sitting outside underneath the shade of a tree when a low flying helicopter caught our attention. It was so low that it sounded like it was going to land on the orphanage grounds. It was blaring a loud siren while slowly hovering over the city of Lurin. We began to wonder what this warning was about? We had heard earlier of flooding in parts of Peru, but since there was no message with the sirens we presumed it was a local policing matter.

Later that day, another volunteer returned with some friends who had gone to see a river about six miles south of the orphanage. The images they described were surreal. Instead of talking about a river cutting through the Peruvian landscape, they shared images of an aggressive body of brown, muddy water that was carrying dead animals (cows and pigs primarily), bamboo, and other materials used in home building by the poor in the mountains of Peru.

The next day, we had a daytrip to Lima. At one point, I stepped away from the group to look at one of the main rivers that ran through the city. It was raging, brown, and full of all kinds of debris. The next day, I was shocked to hear that the pedestrian bridge I had seen the day before had been washed out by flood water. It became clear that the helicopter we had heard was warning us about the "huaicos." (Toward the end of the flood video below, you can see a woman emerge alive from the watery wreckage.)

How did this happen? Peru is experiencing higher precipitation than usual due to El Nino. Fr. Hirsch, the Director of Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II, told me that about a week before we arrived in Peru there was a rain storm of about two inches. Coming from Wisconsin, two inches of rain doesn't sound like anything life threatening. However, when you realize that certain regions of Peru are considered some of the driest on the planet, two inches of rain can create major issues.

Image of the Costal Desert.

Today, I received an urgent plea from those who work at Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II to pray for the victims of the huaicos. Some regions of Peru have now gone over a week without water and electricity. Casa Hogar is taking donation items that groups like ours bring to the orphanage to help those who are impacted by the floods (including tons of powdered milk our Diocese makes with milk from Wisconsin farms). I would ask those who read The Catholic Astronomer to pray today for Peru and, if your heart is so moved, seek out ways to support those devastated by this disaster. May we embrace our common humanity and seek to support those who are in desperate need.

(Addendum: Many have written to me, asking if there are organizations I know of that are assisting with the flooding in Peru. I am sure there are many, but our orphanage is the only one I am connected with. I presume you could also contact Caritas Internationalis and Catholic Relief Services. The links are below.)

Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II Emergency Assistance to Flood Victims

Caritas Internationalis

Catholic Relief Services

Strange Tales of Galileo and Proving: Omitted Data and the Tides
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Last week I wrote a post on how even books for children and travel books state (incorrectly) that Galileo proved that the Earth circles the sun, as Copernicus had said it did.  This post tells a strange story about Galileo’s efforts to prove that the Earth circles the sun.

In Galileo’s time, no telescopic observation was likely to prove Earth’s motion.  Before the telescope had even been invented, Tycho Brahe had proposed a geocentric theory in which the planets circled the sun while the sun, moon, and stars circled the Earth.  Brahe’s theory was mathematically and observationally identical to Copernicus’s heliocentric theory insofar as the Earth, sun, moon, and planets were concerned: the “machinery” of both systems was the same, it was just that in Brahe’s the Earth stood still, whereas in Copernicus’s the sun stood still.  Galileo’s telescopic observations proved that Venus circled the sun—but Venus circled the sun in both Brahe’s geocentric theory and in Copernicus’s heliocentric theory.  Technically, observations of the stars could prove one theory over the other, because in Copernicus’s theory Earth moved with respect to the stars, whereas in Brahe’s it did not.  However, Copernicus had specified that the stars were so far away in his theory that the Earth’s motion was nothing by comparison, and so observing the stars would not reveal Earth’s motion.

The Tychonic geocentric (left) and Copernican heliocentric

The Tychonic geocentric (left) and Copernican heliocentric (right) theories.

With astronomical observations being no help, Galileo looked for proof of Earth’s motion in a common Earthly phenomenon: the tides of the ocean.  The level of the ocean rises and falls every day at beaches and harbors on seacoasts everywhere.  Galileo argued that this rising and falling—the tides—was evidence of Earth’s motion.

Consider:  What are the oceans but giant basins filled with water?  What are seacoasts but the edges of those basins?  Now, how do you make water in a basin rise and fall along the edges of the basin?  There is only one way to do this: you make the water rise and fall by moving the entire basin unevenly; that sloshes the water back and forth, causing it to rise and fall at opposite edges of the basin!  Put a basin of water on the floor of your car; then step on the gas, and then the brake, and then the gas, and so on; the water will slosh everywhere.  If, on the other hand, the car just sits (or even moves at a steady speed in a straight line), and you don’t touch the water, that water will just sit in the basin.

Well, said Galileo, in the heliocentric theory the ocean basins move unevenly, going faster and slower and faster again, just like in your car.  In the heliocentric theory the Earth rotates once per day.  The Earth measures 25,000 miles in circumference, and if the Earth rotates then people at the equator travel all the way around the Earth in 24 hours.  Thus the equator, and the people and waters at the equator, moves at 25,000 miles/24 hours = 1000+ mph.  Moreover, in the heliocentric theory, the Earth orbits the sun, and the orbital speed is almost 70,000 mph.  So imagine that the Earth orbits the sun clockwise, and rotates clockwise, as shown below (the blue arrow shows the Earth’s orbital motion; the red arrow shows the Earth’s rotational motion).

At point A on the side of Earth opposite the sun (the midnight point), the 1000 mph of rotational speed is in the same direction as the orbital speed; at point B on the side of the Earth facing the sun (the noon point), the 1000 mph of rotational speed is opposite the orbital speed.  So, A is moving clockwise around the sun at 70,000 + 1,000 = 71,000 mph, and B is moving clockwise at 70,000 - 1,000 = 69,000 mph.  Therefore a person on the equator is hurtling round the sun 2000 mph slower at noon than at midnight!  Therefore, from noon to midnight that person speeds up by 2000 mph,* and from midnight to noon that person slows down by 2000 mph.  And so do the ocean basins!

Voila!—uneven motion.  This uneven motion must slosh the water in the oceans, causing the tides.  All this Galileo described in a January 1616 letter to a Cardinal Allesandro Orsini (put your usual image of a Roman Catholic Cardinal out of your mind—Orsini was born in 1593; he wasn’t 25 years old at the time).

There seemed to be one problem with all this:  If this uneven motion was the cause of the tides, then the oceans should slosh toward one direction on account of the noon-to-midnight speed-up, and toward the other direction on account of the midnight-to-noon slowdown.  There should be one “up slosh”, or high tide, and one “down slosh”, or low tide, each day.  Thus there should be twenty-four hours between one high tide and the next, and twelve hours between high and low tides.  But in the Mediterranean Sea there are two high tides and two low tides each day, and therefore six hours between high and low tides.

Galileo said that, actually, this was not a problem.  The six-hour period is the result of a secondary effect, he said, namely the water rebounding off the eastern and western ends of the Mediterranean Sea, and the “slosh” being sent back across that sea.  In other words, while the Earth’s heliocentric uneven motion drives the tides, the Mediterranean’s six-hour period is an effect of the length of the Mediterranean.  In the larger Atlantic Ocean, Galileo said, the tide period is twelve hours.  Here are his words on the matter:

[T]he approximately six-hour period commonly observed is no more natural or significant than any other; rather, it is the one which has been observed and described more than others, since it takes place in the Mediterranean Sea around which all our ancient writers and a large part of the moderns have lived.  The length of this Mediterranean basin is the secondary cause that gives its oscillations a six-hour period; whereas on the eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean, which extends to the West Indies, the oscillations have a period of about twelve hours, as one observes daily in Lisbon, located on the far side of Spain; now, this sea, which extends toward the Americas as far as the Gulf of Mexico, is twice as long as the stretch of the Mediterranean from the Strait of Gibraltar to the shores of Syria, that is, 120 degrees for the former and 56 degrees for the latter, approximately.  Thus, to believe that tidal periods are six hours is a deceptive opinion and it has lead writers to make up many fictional stories. [He then goes on to discuss how complex the tides get within portions of the Mediterranean.]

If you have any familiarity with Atlantic Ocean tides, O Reader, you immediately recognized the “strange” part of this tale.  The business about an Atlantic Ocean twelve-hour period between tides is bogus.  The period is six hours in the Atlantic.

Somewhere along the line Galileo learned he was wrong about the Atlantic tides.  The historical record shows that at least by 1619 he was told of this, as one Tobie Matthew reported as much in a letter to Francis Bacon.  And Galileo, in his 1632 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems—Ptolemaic and Copernican (sixteen years after his letter to Cardinal Orsini), omits all mention of the Atlantic, and still sticks with the idea that the six-hour tide period is a characteristic of the Mediterranean.  What Galileo says in the Dialogue is—

Six hours, then, is not a more proper or natural period for these reciprocations than any other interval of time, though perhaps it has been the one most generally observed because it is that of our Mediterranean, which has been the only place practicable for making observations over many centuries. [He then again goes on to discuss how complex the tides get within portions of the Mediterranean.]

So much for Lisbon, the 120 degrees and the 56 degrees, and all that.  From a scientific perspective, this seriously un-cool.  When I am teaching my students how to perform physics experiments, I always emphasize that one cannot selectively choose one’s data.  If you are measuring the acceleration due to gravity by timing the fall of a ball, and not all of your times are in agreement, you cannot just ignore the ones you don’t like.  You have to report all the data you have, both the data you like and the data you don’t like.  You can then try to explain away the data you don’t like, if you think you have good reason to do so, but you cannot just leave it out.

And in the end, leaving out the Atlantic Ocean did not make the problem of the tides period go away.  Consider, for example, the Church officials who investigated the Dialogue (the Dialogue is the book that Galileo was put on trial for) after it was published.  After describing Galileo's tides theory one official wrote:

However, he does not untangle the difficulty that, given this doctrine, since the change between greatest acceleration and maximum retardation of the earth’s motion occurs at twelve-hour intervals, then high and low tides should also occur at twelve-hour intervals. But experience teaches that they occur every six hours.

In science, it never pays to leave out the data.  It was strange, and un-cool, that Galileo did that while trying to prove that the Earth moves.


*You would not feel a gain of 2000 mph in 12 hours.  That’s 2000/12 = 167 mph in an hour, or a little over 80 mph in 30 minutes. Even a fairly sluggish automobile can easily accelerate to 80 mph in well under one minute.

P.S. We now understand the tides to be a result of the gravity of the sun and the moon, not of the Earth’s motion.

 

 

The Most Recent Chapter on the Hubble Constant
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Astronomers agree that the universe is expanding in all directions, a notion now called the "Hubble expansion" to refer discoverer Mr. Edwin Hubble.

A useful analogy to understand the Hubble expansion is to draw dots onto a balloon to represent galaxies in the universe. As you blow up the balloon the dots expand away from each other. While there seems to be no way around a universal Hubble expansion, now there is controversy brewing regarding the exact value for this rate of expansion. What is at stake may be a tiny misunderstanding in how we make the measurements, or may be a signal of new physics.

Oh, we all agree now on the approximate answer, that the space between galaxies grows such that for every 3.3 million light years a galaxy moves in distance away from us, the velocity of that distant galaxy becomes 70 km/s faster. Equivalently, in astronomer’s jargon we say that the rate of expansion (H0) equals 70 km/s/Mpc, with the symbol H0 used again to recognize the work of Mr. Hubble.

Although this law was first established in 1929, astronomers are still working on getting its exact value nearly 100 years later. To recap the 21st century part of the story, in 2015 one research group measured H0 by studying distant exploding stars, or supernovae. This group, led by Nobel Laureate Dr. Adam Reiss, reported a value for H0 from their high quality data set in the range of 71.2 - 74.8 km/s/Mpc.

Somewhat surprisingly, a different group working with also with high quality data this time from the space satellite “Planck” compute a value for H0 of 67 km/s/Mpc with quoted error bars that make it incompatible with the supernova-based measurement.

This mismatch of the value for H0 between the two groups may sound a bit like scientists being nitpicky. Afterall, we could very well find out later that one or more of the measurements that went into the computations mentioned above have larger uncertainties than originally projected. Then again, if the numbers do hold, then this could be a gentle but persistent beacon that queues us into new physics.

Newly Named Asteroids: Mar. 12, 2017
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Asteroid Itokawa. Credit: JAXA

The March 2017 IAU Minor Planet Center circular returned to its regular format, containing: errata, new observatory codes, deleted observations, new identifications, thousands of observation records, and several new names for minor planets.

Numerous finalists from the US who participated in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS math and science competition for middle school students were given named asteroids, as well as Noam Chomsky, the city of Mansfield in Germany, the Mekong and Thames rivers, the Chimborazo volcano, Tai Chi instructor Tam Yiu, and several others.

(624) Hektor I = Skamandrios
Discovered 2006 July 21 by F. Marchis et al.at Mauna Kea.
Skamandrios was the son of Andromache and Hektor, who was a Trojan prince and the greatest fighter for Troy in the Trojan War.

(7202) Kigoshi = 1995 DX1
Discovered 1995 Feb. 19 at Ojima.
Kunihiko Kigoshi (1919–2014) was a cosmo-geochemist and emeritus professor at Gakushuin University. One of his pioneering works was the development of the radiocarbon dating method, both theoretically and technically. He dated more than twenty thousand geological and archaeological samples from all over the world.

(7605) Cindygraber = 1995 SR1
Discovered 1995 Sept. 21 by T. B. Spahr at Catalina Station.
Cynthia Jean (Volinsky) Graber (b. 1956) is an American psychologist, theatre aficionado, nature lover and rock collector. A steadfast advocate for kindness, compassion and curiosity, she has spent more than 30 years helping adults, children, and
families navigate the human condition with warmth and patience.

(12937) Premadi = 3024 P-L
Discovered 1960 Sept. 24 by C. J. van Houten and I. van Houten-Groeneveld on Palomar Schmidt plates taken by T. Gehrels.
Premana W. Premadi (b. 1964) is an astronomer at the ITB Observatorium Bosscha (Indonesia), an authority on cosmology, and teacher of theoretical astrophysics. Since 2005, she has been a member of the Universe Awareness (UNAWE)
International Team, and is the founder and chair of UNAWE Indonesia (2007–2013).

(16481) Thames = 1990 QU7
Discovered 1990 Aug. 16 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
The Thames, with a length of nearly 350 km, is the chief river in southern England.

London Thames Sunset panorama - Feb 2008.jpg

River Thames. Credit: David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

(16770) Angkorwat = 1996 UD3
Discovered 1996 Oct. 30 by V. S. Casulli at Colleverde.
Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia, built from the early twelfth century, that is the largest religious archaeological site in the world.

Front side of Angkor Wat Temple main complex

Angkor Wat Temple. Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen / GFDL

(18583) Francescopedani = 1997 XN10
Discovered 1997 Dec. 7 by A. Boattini and M. Tombelli at Cima Ekar.
Francesco Pedani (1953–1998) was an amateur astronomer, biologist and school teacher of science and mathematics. In 1988 he founded the Societ Astronomica Fiorentina, an association of amateur astronomers based in Florence, Italy. He was its first president until his untimely death.

(21033) Akahirakiyozo = 1989 UM
Discovered 1989 Oct. 21 by K. Endate and K. Watanabe at Kitami.
Kiyozo Akahira (b. 1941) is a science historian and an amateur astronomer. He has been a high school teacher of physics for more than 35 years.

(21117) Tashimaseizo = 1992 SB13
Discovered 1992 Sept. 30 by K. Endate and K. Watanabe at Kitami.
Seizo Tashima (b. 1940) is well-known as an author of illustrated books. He has won many national and international prizes for his books and pictures.

(21161) Yamashitaharuo = 1993 TR1
Discovered 1993 Oct. 15 by K. Endate and K. Watanabe at Kitami.
Haruo Yamashita (b. 1937) is the author of more than 500 works including novels and children’s stories. He has been awarded many prizes including the Medal with Purple Ribbon from the Emperor of Japan.

(22366) Flettner = 1993 MT
Discovered 1993 June 21 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak.
Anton Flettner (1885–1961) was a German aviation engineer and inventor. He made important contributions to airplane and helicopter design. Name suggested by R. Jedicke and P. Jedicke.

2014 June Astrobiology and Theology seminer 04.JPG

David H. Grinspoon. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0

(22410) Grinspoon = 1995 SS52
Discovered 1995 Sept. 29 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak.
David Grinspoon (b. 1959), an astrobiologist at the Southwest Research Institute, won the 2006 Carl Sagan Medal and wrote the award-winning book Lonely Planets. Name suggested by R. Jedicke and P. Jedicke.

(22415) HumeIvey = 1995 UB21
Discovered 1995 Oct. 19 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak
James Nairn Patterson Hume (1923–2013) and Donald Glenn Ivey (b. 1922) were physics educators, best known for their award-winning 1962 film Frames of Reference. Name suggested by R. and P. Jedicke.

(22426) Mikehanes = 1996 AH9
Discovered 1996 Jan. 13 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak.
Michael Francis Hanes (b. 1959) was a pilot for Air Canada, an amateur astronomer and telescope maker with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, London Centre. Name suggested by R. and P. Jedicke.

(22434) Peredery = 1996 GE6
Discovered 1996 Apr. 11 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak.
Walter Volodymyr Peredery (b. 1938) is a retired Canadian geologist who studied the Sudbury, Ontario, area and developed the view that it is an impact basin. Name suggested by P. and R. Jedicke.

(22435) Pierfederici = 1996 GN7
Discovered 1996 Apr. 12 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak.
Francesco Pierfederici (b. 1973) developed software for the Pan-STARRS moving object processing system and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Name suggested by P. and R. Jedicke.

(23707) Chambliss = 1997 TZ7
Discovered 1997 Oct. 4 by J. Bruton at Chinle.
Carlson R. Chambliss (b. 1941) is an astronomer and Emeritus Professor at Kutztown University in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. He has written books on numismatics, philately, and blackjack, and created and sponsored numerous awards in his name honoring achievements in academia and science, especially astronomy.

Leonard Cohen, 1988 01.jpg

Leonard Cohen. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0

(24732) Leonardcohen = 1992 CL2
Discovered 1992 Feb. 2 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
Leonard Cohen (1934–2016) was a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist. His song “Suzanne” was one of many that became a hit. He was honored with one of the Prince of Asturias awards. Name suggested by K. Leterme.

(28963) Tamyiu = 2001 FY121
Discovered 2001 Mar. 29 by W. K. Y. Yeung at Desert Beaver.
Tam Yiu (b. 1928), a driving instructor by profession, had inspired thousands of followers who study his teachings in Tai Chi philosophy.

(29449) Taharbenjelloun = 1997 QR2
Discovered 1997 Aug. 29 by V. S. Casulli at Colleverde.
Tahar Ben Jelloun (b. 1944) is a Moroccan writer, poet and essayist, who writes exclusively in French.

Volcán Chimborazo, "El Taita Chimborazo".jpg

Chimborazo Volcano. Credit: David Torres Costales Pictures of Ecuador / CC BY-SA 3.0

(30797) Chimborazo = 1989 CV2
Discovered 1989 Feb. 4 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
Chimborazo is a volcano in the occident range of the Andes and the highest mountain in Ecuador (6263 m). In 1891, the botanist von Humboldt searched the slopes of the mountain for plants and trees in order to compare them with the vegetation in other continents

(32579) Allendavia = 2001 QJ97
Discovered 2001 Aug. 17 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Davia Elizabeth LeXin Allen (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her animal science project. She attends the Early County Middle School, Blakely, Georgia.

(32580) Avbalasingam = 2001 QY97
Discovered 2001 Aug. 18 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Akhilesh Varadan Balasingam (b. 2003) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his energy and sustainability project. He attends the Challenger School, San Jose, California.

(32582) Mayachandar = 2001 QW101
Discovered 2001 Aug. 18 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Maya Sruti Chandar (b. 2003) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her animal science project. She attends the Canterbury School, Fort Myers, Florida.

(32590) Cynthiachen = 2001 QF130
Discovered 2001 Aug. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Cynthia Chen (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her environmental and earth sciences project. She attends the Harker School, San Jose, California.

(32593) Crotty = 2001 QK138
Discovered 2001 Aug. 22 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Brendan Joseph Crotty (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his materials & bioengineering project. He is homeschooled in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

(32594) Nathandeng = 2001 QV141
Discovered 2001 Aug. 24 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Nathan K. Deng (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, amath and science competition for middle school students, for his chemistry project. He attends the Henry E. Huntington Middle School, San Marino, California.

(32603) Ariaeppinger = 2001 QL199
Discovered 2001 Aug. 22 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Aria Rosalee Eppinger (b. 2001) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her medicine and health sciences project. She attends the Winchester Thurston School, Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania.

(32609) Jamesfagan = 2001 QF243
Discovered 2001 Aug. 24 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
James Dana Fagan (b. 2006) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his physics project. He attends the Alcott Elementary School, Riverside, California.

(32610) Siennafink = 2001 QA245
Discovered 2001 Aug. 24 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Sienna Nicole Fink (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her physics project. She attends the St. Joseph School Fullerton, Baltimore, Maryland.

(32611) Ananyaganesh = 2001 QB253
Discovered 2001 Aug. 25 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Ananya Lakshmi Ganesh (b. 2001) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her medicine and health sciences project. She attends the Westminster Schools, Atlanta, Georgia.

(32612) Ghatare = 2001 QA256
Discovered 2001 Aug. 25 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Adishree Ghatare (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her computer science and software engineering project. She attends the Challenger School, San Jose, California.

(32614) Hacegarcia = 2001 QY266
Discovered 2001 Aug. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Joaquin Hace Garcia (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his electrical and mechanical engineering project. He attends the Santa Gertrudis School, Kingsville,
Texas.

(32616) Nadinehan = 2001 QH279
Discovered 2001 Aug. 19 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Nadine Han (b. 2003) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her environmental and earth sciences project. She attends the Boston Latin School, Boston, Massachusetts.

(32623) Samuelkahn = 2001 RV23
Discovered 2001 Sept. 7 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Samuel Bennett Kahn (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his environmental and earth sciences project. He attends the High Tech Middle, San Diego, California.

(32628) Lazorik = 2001 RK70
Discovered 2001 Sept. 10 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Olivia Jane Lazorik (b. 2001) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her animal science project. She attends the Saint Edward’s School, Vero Beach, Florida.

(32630) Ethanlevy = 2001 RZ71
Discovered 2001 Sept. 10 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Ethan Zvi Levy (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his medicine and health sciences project. He attends the Aventura Waterways K-8 Center, Miami, Florida.

(32631) Majzoub = 2001 RS74
Discovered 2001 Sept. 10 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Omar Majzoub (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his physics project. He attends the Franklin Fine Arts Center, Chicago, Illinois.

(32634) Sonjamichaluk = 2001 RU103
Discovered 2001 Sept. 12 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Sonja Morgan Simon Michaluk (b. 2003) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her environmental and earth sciences project. She attends the Timberlane Middle School,
Pennington, New Jersey.

(33117) Ashinimodi = 1998 BR12
Discovered 1998 Jan. 23 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Ashini A. Modi (b. 2004) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her physics project. She attends the Caddo Middle Magnet, Shreveport, Louisiana.

(33118) Naiknaware = 1998 BZ12
Discovered 1998 Jan. 23 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Anushka R. Naiknaware (b. 2003) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her materials & bioengineering project. She attends the Stoller Middle School, Portland, Oregon.

(33181) Aalokpatwa = 1998 FN17
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Aalok Nital Patwa (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his materials & bioengineering project. He attends the Stratford Middle School, San Jose, California.

(33187) Pizzolato = 1998 FD36
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Rachel Michelle Pizzolato (b. 2004) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her energy and sustainability project. She attends the John Curtis Christian School, River
Ridge, Louisiana.

(33188) Shreya = 1998 FC43
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Shreya Ramachandran (b. 2003) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her environmental and earth sciences project. She attends the Stratford Middle School, Fremont, California.

(33189) Ritzdorf = 1998 FK43
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Lucas Lee Ritzdorf (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his environmental and earth sciences project. He attends the Kalispell Middle School, Kalispell, Montana.

(33190) Sigrest = 1998 FV43
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Eleanor Wren Sigrest (b. 2003) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for her electrical and mechanical engineering project. She attends the Louise A. Benton Middle School, Manassas, Virginia.

(33191) Santiagostone = 1998 FW43
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Santiago Stone (b. 2001) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his materials & bioengineering project. He attends St. John the Evangelist, Severna Park, Maryland.

(33193) Emhyr = 1998 FO47
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Emhyr Subramanian (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his chemistry project. He attends the Challenge School, Denver, Colorado.

(33195) Davenyadav = 1998 FO48
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Daven Raymond Yadav (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his materials & bioengineering project. He attends the Westminster Schools, Atlanta, Georgia.

(33196) Kaienyang = 1998 FX48
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Kaien Yang (b. 2002) is a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students, for his medicine and health sciences project. He attends the Nysmith School for the Gifted and Talented, Herndon, Virginia.

(33197) Charlallen = 1998 FA52
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Charla Allen mentored a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students. She teaches at the Early County Middle School, Blakely, Georgia.

(33198) Mackewicz = 1998 FV52
Discovered 1998 Mar. 20 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro.
Heather Mackewicz mentored a finalist in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS, a math and science competition for middle school students. She teaches at the Challenger School, San Jose, California.

(39300) Auyeungsungfan = 2001 HM38
Discovered 2001 Apr. 30 by W. K. Y. Yeung at Desert Beaver.
Auyeungsungfan (b. 1959) is a committed and passionate educator who firmly believes in the power of knowledge. Starting as a history teacher 34 years ago, he demonstrated integrity during his 20 years as a school principal.

(40134) Marsili = 1998 QO53
Discovered 1998 Aug. 27 by V. S. Casulli at Colleverde.
The Marsili submarine volcano located in the Mediterranean Sea is the highest and largest in Europe.

(42585) Pheidippides = 1997 FJ1
Discovered 1997 Mar. 30 by V. S. Casulli at Colleverde.
Pheidippides (fl.490 B.C.E.) was a legendary Athenian herald who ran 240 km between the battlefield at Marathon to Athens in two days to report the Greek victory over the Persians. The modern marathon takes its name from this legend.

(48451) Pichincha = 1991 PC3
Discovered 1991 Aug. 2 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
Pichincha is an active stratovolcano in Ecuador, very close to the capital Quito. In October 1999, one of the peaks, on the western side of the mountain, erupted and covered the city with several inches of ash. The last major eruptions were in 1553 and in 1660.

Noam Chomsky portrait 2015.jpg

Noam Chomsky. Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0

(52270) Noamchomsky = 1988 CH5
Discovered 1988 Feb. 13 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
Noam Chomsky (b. 1928) is an American linguist and philosopher. An emeritus professor at MIT, he is the author of over 100 books, primarily on linguistics. He is also the co-creator of the universal grammar theory.

(60669) Georgpick = 2000 GE4
Discovered 2000 Apr. 7 by M. Tichý at Kleť.
Georg Alexander Pick (1859–1942), Austrian mathematician who worked in Prague, is best known for his theorem for determining the area of lattice polygons. In 1911 he invited Albert Einstein to Prague and introduced him to the field of absolute differential calculus, which later helped Einstein to formulate general relativity.

(79138) Mansfeld = 1991 RS4
Discovered 1991 Sept. 13 by F. Börngen and L. D. Schmadel at Tautenburg.
Mansfeld is a German town, situated at the border of the Harz Mountains. Martin Luther spent his childhood and youth in this town between 1484 and 1497.

(85190) Birgitroth = 1991 RR3
Discovered 1991 Sept. 12 by F. Börngen and L. D. Schmadel at Tautenburg.
Birgit Roth (b. 1974) is a German physician and well-known expert on hematology and oncology.

(92213) Kalina = 2000 AQ6
Discovered 2000 Jan. 5 by M. Tichý at Kleť.
Antonín Kalina (1902–1990) was a Czech citizen who was imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp from 1939 to 1945. As a member of the Communist Underground he saved some 900 children and youths from dangers of daily life in the camp. In 2012 he was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

(100735) Alpomořanská = 1998 DE1
Discovered 1998 Feb. 19 by M. Tichý and J. Tichý at Kleť.
Alžbĕta Pomořanská (or Elizabeth of Pomerania, c.1347–1393) was the fourth and final wife of Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Charles IV. She bore eight children, including daughter Anne (who married Richard II of England) and son Zikmund (who became Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia and Hungary).

(100934) Marthanussbaum = 1998 MN41
Discovered 1998 June 28 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
Martha Nussbaum (b. 1947) is an American philosopher at the University of Chicago. She became well known from her many books on philosophy, in particular from her book The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy.

(100936) Mekong = 1998 ME43
Discovered 1998 June 26 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
The Mekong is a 4350-kilometre river flowing through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Mekong River (Luang Prabang)

Mekong River. Credit: Allie Caulfield / CC BY 2.0

(120643) Rudimandl = 1996 RU
Discovered 1996 Sept. 10 by M. Tichý at Kleť.
Rudi W. Mandl (1894–1948), Czech-German electrical engineer and amateur astronomer, was interested in gravitational lensing. In 1936 he met Albert Einstein and persuaded him to deal with this problem. Einstein then published Lens-Like Action of a Star By the Deviation of Light In the Gravitational Field.

(121469) Sarahaugh = 1999 TW221
Discovered 1999 Oct. 1 by the Catalina Sky Survey.
Sara Haugh (b. 1970) contributed to the NASA OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission as a Software Systems Engineer. Previously, she served as a Software Systems Engineer for the MAVEN Mission, the ISIM FSW Test Lead for the JWST Mission, and a Flight Operations Team member for the Terra and Aqua Missions.

(174281) Lonský = 2002 SC29
Discovered 2002 Sept. 30 by P. Pravec at Ondřejov.
Vladimír Lonský (b. 1953), a heart surgeon, works in the Faculty Hospital in Olomouc, Czech Republic. On top of his great surgical skills, he is highly appreciated for his humane treat of patients.

A profile of Hans Küng smiling

Hans Küng. Credit: CC BY 3.0

(190139) Hansküng = 2005 RV32
Discovered 2005 Sept. 14 by V. S. Casulli at Vallemare Borbona.
Hans Küng (b. 1928) is a Swiss theologian and essayist, and professor emeritus of theology at the Ecumenical University of Tubingen. He was awarded the Knight of the Order of Merit of the State of Baden-Wurttemberg.

(207723) Jiansanjiang = 2007 RC148
Discovered 2007 Sept. 11 by PMO NEO Survey Program at XuYi.
Jiansanjiang, located in the hinterland of Sanjiang Plain, is known as “China Green Rice City”. Its Honghe farm is the first modernized farm in China. The Jiansanjiang people have created the Great Northern Wilderness spirit:“hard work, courage to pioneer, overall situation, selfless dedication”.

(210290) Borsellino = 2007 TE69
Discovered 2007 Oct. 13 by V. S. Casulli at Vallemare Borbona.
Paolo Borsellino (1940–1992) was an Italian magistrate who played a very active role against organized crime.

juliusolsen-large

Dr. Julius Olsen. Credit: Hardin-Simmons University

(221698) Juliusolsen = 2007 DQ63
Discovered 2007 Feb. 21 by R. Holmes at Charleston.
Julius Olsen (b. 1873) was Dean of Hardin-Simmons University (Abilene, TX)
from 1902 until 1940. Over four decades, he taught astronomy and physics to thousands of students, being instrumental in bringing science education to West Texas at the turn of the 20th Century. Suggested by his grandson, N. H. Olsen.

(232409) Dubes = 2003 EU1
Discovered 2003 Mar. 4 at St. V ´eran.
Alain Dubes (1935–2016) was a French amateur astronomer. He liked to go and observe the sky at the Pic du Midi observatory where he made us taste his ‘cannelés, a specialty of cakes from the Bordeaux region.

(248262) Liuxiaobo = 2005 GR128
Discovered 2005 Apr. 4 at Vallemare Borbona.
Liu Xiaobo (b. 1955) received the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his long and non-violent struggle for human rights in China.

(293366) Roux = 2007 EQ9
Discovered 2007 Mar. 9 by B. Christophe at Saint-Sulpice.
Pierre Paul Émile Roux (1853–1933) was a French bacteriologist. He was the closest collaborator of Louis Pasteur.

Gaston Lagaffe

Gaston Lagaffe. Credit: André Franquin

(293985) Franquin = 2007 TF69
Discovered 2007 Oct. 13 by B. Christophe at Saint-Sulpice.
André Franquin (1924–1997) was a Belgian comics artist. He was the creator of the characters Gaston Lagaffe and Marsupilami. He also produced the Spirou and Fantasio strip between 1947 and 1969.

(300928) Uderzo = 2008 CQ72
Discovered 2008 Feb. 9 by B. Christophe at Saint-Sulpice.
Albert Uderzo (b. 1927) is a French comic artist. In collaboration with René Goscinny, he created the character Asterix, a Gaulish hero fighting the Romans.

Mission Apocalypse.jpg

Buck Danny Comic, 1983. Credit: Jean-Michel Charlier and Victor Hubinon / Fair use

(301511) Hubinon = 2009 FJ5
Discovered 2009 Mar. 19 by B. Christophe at Saint-Sulpice.
Victor Hubinon (1924–1979) was a Belgian comic book artist. With Jean-Michel Charlier he created the series Buck Danny.

(316138) Giorgione = 2009 SL170
Discovered 2009 Sept. 26 by B. Christophe at Saint-Sulpice.
Giorgione (1477–1510) was an Italian painter of the Venetian school in the High Renaissance from Venice.

(318682) Carpaccio = 2005 QO30
Discovered* 2005 Aug. 29 by B. Christophe at Saint-Sulpice.
Vittore Carpaccio (1465–1525) was a Venetian painter of the Venetian school, who studied under Gentile Bellini. He is best known for a cycle of nine paintings, The Legend of Saint Ursula.

(330440) Davinadon = 2007 DQ60
Discovered 2007 Feb. 23 by A. Lowe at Mayhill.
Davina O’Brien (b. 1949) and Donovan Edward O’Brien (b. 1945), of Tea Gardens, Australia, are friends of the discoverer.

(349606) Fleurance = 2008 UX5
Discovered 2008 Oct. 26 by M. Ory at Vicques.
Fleurance is a once fortified city in Gers, in south-western France, that was founded in the 13th century. It is well known for its astronomy festival organized by “La Ferme des Etoiles” each year in August. This festival, the largest in France, has been growing steadily since 1991.

A black-and-white photo of Lacks smiling

Henrietta Lacks. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Fair use

(359426) Lacks = 2010 LA71
Discovered 2010 June 10 by WISE.
Henrietta Lacks (1920–1951) was an American woman whose cancer cells, taken without her knowledge, became one of the most important tools in medicine. Her cells were used to develop the polio vaccine and other medical advances. Her story serves as a powerful symbol of the importance of informed consent in science.

Billie Holiday 0001 original.jpg

Billie Holiday. Credit: William P. Gottlieb / Public Domain

(365443) Holiday = 2010 MU49
Discovered 2010 June 23 by WISE.
Billie Holiday (1915–1959), born Eleanora Fagan, was one of the greatest jazz singers and songwriters of all time. She collaborated with numerous jazz greats, including Lester Young, Count Bassie and Artie Shaw. Her gorgeous voice and heartfelt songs continue to inspire.

(383067) Stoofke = 2005 RA5
Discovered 2005 Sept. 7 by T. Pauwels at Uccle.
Steven Terlaeken (b. 1969), nicknamed Stoofke, created “Loop naar de maan” (“Run to the moon”), a fund raising event for cancer research organised by Kom op tegen Kanker - Belgium.

(398188) Agni = 2010 LE15
Discovered 2010 June 3 by WISE.
Agni is the Vedic god of fire. He represents the vital spark of life, and the fire and brilliance of the Sun, lightning, and comets. Often said to be the link between heaven and Earth, he rides a chariot that is sometimes drawn by parrots.

(400673) Vitapolunina = 2009 OL5
Discovered 2009 July 24 by T. V. Kryachko at Zelenchukskaya Stn.
Viktoriya (Vita) Polunina (b. 1967), Professor Doctor of medical sciences, is a specialist in reflex therapy in children, reconstructive and sports medicine, therapeutic physical training, and the author of more than 70 scientific papers. She supervises the internship of reflex therapy at the Moscow Medical University of N. I. Pirogov.

Source: http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/iau/ECS/MPCArchive/2017/MPC_20170312.pdf

Eratosthenes Drawing Drama plus an Experiment opportunity for schools all over the planet
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Eratosthenes

April 25th 2007 21:30UT - 22:55UT Lunation 8.47 Days Illumination 66.6% 200mm/8mmTVP/ F6/152X Seeing 1 - 2 300gm Daler Paper/Soft Pastels/ Conte Crayon/ Quiling tool/fingers South is up.

On that cold evening back in 2007 Eratosthenes looked powerful in its position emerging into the suns warm rays. Rupes Recta was also inviting and Plato almost called me again. Even drenched in sunlight Plato’s steel grey floor carried those unmistakable flame shaped shadows. Eratosthenes is a truly dramatic crater, a sweeping mountain chain whips away from it in a visual series, of broken, deep shadows. Montes Appeninus is cut and chopped first by Mons Wolf, and then by Mons Ampere.

Next in line, Christian Huygens name is lent to Mons Huygens named in honour of the discoverer of Saturn's largest moon Titan . This high mountain (164,000ft) is a billion miles away from those primal methane or ethane seas discovered by the Cassini Huygens mission on one of its routine flybys.

Mons Bradley and Mons Hadley cradle the Apollo 15 lunar landing area from 1971. A mission that put wheels on the moon for the first time. This wonderfully complex mountain highland system is a challenge to sketch.

Sinus Aestuum (Bay of Billows) appeared to have some ray’s barely visible on the undulating floor of the bay. These are most likely issued from Copernicus hiding in the dark night.

I attempted to sketch the seemingly different heights on the southern edge of this bay; differing grey tones gave up ethereal views which never quite came into focus. The elusive rays appeared to hug the lunar surface rising and falling with the land.

The black edge guided my hand to sketch the neat Timocharis and the lunar surface markings visible now to my eye. I was using a lovely jet black Mungyo soft pastel. Just a little pressure on it caused the whole stick to shatter into a million bits and they went all over the drawing like shrapnel exploding everywhere wow!! gently does it with those sticks, nice black though. The corners of these rectangular sticks make clear defined shapes , the black is a perfect black for use directly or on fingers when blending surface areas.

These days I make an effort to bring key craters like Eratosthenes to the attention of children who attend my workshops. It's good to give moon features context in relation to the historical importance of lunar nomenclature. You can also get really into the spirit of Eratosthenes by taking part in the Eratosthenes Experiment . This is an effort to reproduce his very clever experiment to measure the circumference of the Earth. This year it takes place on March 21st 2017 so you have a short time to get involved but there is a link for doing it on another date and of course there is always next year . You can read all about Eratosthenes the man and his experiment here - You can also register to take part -  http://eratosthenes.ea.gr/

 

Across the Universe: Spotting Ceres
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This column first ran in The Tablet in March 2015

Ceres was the first body found in the region between Mars and Jupiter now called the Asteroid Belt. In the late 1700s Titius and Bode had noted a pattern in planet positions that suggested there should be a planet in the gap between Mars and Jupiter; on New Year’s Day of 1801, Father Giuseppi Piazzi found Ceres from his observatory in Sicily.

Bode's Law appears in the footnote on page 635 of his book of astronomy, Anleitung zur Kenntniss des gestirnten Himmels ("Manual for Knowing the Starry Sky") as seen in the Vatican Observatory copy here.

They expected a planet, so that’s what they called Ceres – though William Herschel, who had just discovered the gas giant Uranus, sniffed that such a tiny dot of light was neither planet nor star (Latin, “aster”) but a mere “asteroid.” Only fifty years later, when a number of other such small bodies had been found, did Ceres and the other asteroids get “demoted” to the status of “minor planet.” (And later work showed that the Titius-Bode pattern which predicted a planet at Ceres’ position was actually just a coincidence of numbers, not a reliable law.)

A mere 950 km in diameter, Ceres is indeed small – even Pluto’s diameter is two and a half times bigger and more than 15 times its volume – but it’s still by far the biggest object in the asteroid belt. It’s nearly twice the diameter and six times the volume of Vesta. We can measure its gravity’s tiny pull on Mars to estimate its mass, and we can just make it out as a disk in our biggest telescopes to get its diameter and volume, so we know it has a density somewhere between water and rock. We also know that, for its size, it reflects little light; its surface must be almost jet black, like a dark meteorite.

Indeed, this small size and dim surface made Ceres seem for many years a dull subject for study. But in 2006, when Pluto and other similarly-sized objects out beyond Neptune were recognized as a separate family of bodies called Dwarf Planets, it seemed reasonable to add Ceres to their number. So once again Ceres was re-classified. (Unlike Pluto, Ceres doesn’t have a vocal fan club so its repeated reclassifications have gone mostly unnoticed by the general public.)

A few years ago the Hubble telescope observed Ceres’ blurry disk to be slightly flattened. With a little fancy math (and some assumptions) you can compare the flattening with the spin rate to conclude that, unlike rubble-pile asteroids, Ceres was a solid body compressed by its own gravity, with a dense core. That implied its upper regions were full of low density stuff, probably ice, below a dust-covered surface. This idea gained traction when Esa’s Heschel Space Telescope, looking for water in our galaxy, stumbled on a detection of a plume of water from Ceres itself.

Dawn, approaching Ceres earlier this year, added the final touch: the discovery of two small white spots that many scientists are suggesting might be bits of ice poking through its dusty crust. Now we’re speculating that this fresh ice may indicate liquid water – and life? – inside this body, once thought so dull and uninteresting.

Occator Crater, measuring 57 miles (92 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep, contains the brightest area on Ceres. 
Dawn's close-up view reveals a dome in a smooth-walled pit in the bright center of the crater. A separate figure shows the bright spots in a mosaic of two Dawn images taken using a shorter exposure time to show details within the bright features that are overexposed, or nearly so, in the full mosaic. The images used to make these mosaics were taken from Dawn's low-altitude mapping orbit (LAMO), 240 miles (385 kilometers) above Ceres. Credit: NASA

 

But we’ve only just arrived; it is far too early to jump to conclusions. Planet or asteroid or dwarf? Black meteorite, dusty ice ball, or a home for life? If we’ve learned any lesson from Ceres, it’s to take in what it shows you with an open mind, rather than assume you know it all ahead of time, and only see what you expect to see.

That would be like worrying over the empty Tomb, without noticing the Gardener standing beside you.

(Most recently, organic material has been found on the surface of Ceres; for the latest Ceres information, check out the Dawn website.)

Punished for Proving
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galileobooks1History of astronomy turns up in unexpected places.  Unfortunately that history is often poorly presented.  Consider this example, found in a children’s book called C is for Ciao: An Italy Alphabet by Elissa D. Grodin and Governor Mario Cuomo:

G is for Galileo,
punished when he proved
that the sun was sitting still
and the earth’s the one that moved

On the same page is—

Until the Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus discovered that the sun is the center of our solar system... people since the second century had thought the sun revolved around the earth.

Click on this image to enlarge.

Click on this image to enlarge.

—and—

In developing the telescope, Galileo was able to prove that Copernicus’s theory was correct.  This caused a problem with church leaders of the day, who—disrespectful of scientific facts—were offended by the idea that the earth was not the center of the solar system.

But Copernicus did not discover that the sun is the center—he hypothesized that it was.  Galileo did not prove that the earth moves.  He proved that certain older ideas about the universe were wrong (although some astronomers in Galileo’s time might have argued even this point).

Consider the wonderful illustration of Galileo in C is for Ciao.  Look behind Galileo.  That is not the heliocentric hypothesis of Copernicus that is shown.  It is the hypothesis of Tycho Brahe, a very new hypothesis in Galileo’s time, in which the sun and moon and stars circled the Earth, while the planets circled the sun.  See at upper right where it says “Circulus Jovis” (“The Circle of Jupiter”) and shows Jupiter with four moons (moons discovered by Galileo)?  Note that the Jovian circle is centered on the sun (the sun being behind Galileo’s right temple).  Meanwhile the sun is circling something else: the stationary Earth (behind Galileo’s throat). galileobooks3

Galileo did not support Brahe’s hypothesis, and probably would not be happy to see himself portrayed in front of it.  However, it was wholly compatible with Galileo’s telescopic discoveries.  It was why, for example, using the telescope to prove that Venus circled the sun was not the same as proving that Earth moves—because in Brahe’s system Venus circled the sun, and the Earth did not move.  (Proving Earth’s movement—showing that Copernicus was right and Brahe wrong—took a very long time.  I can recommend a book on this topic if you want all the details.)

The illustration behind Galileo is from the Harmonia Macrocosmica of Andreas Cellarius, as seen here. The left-hand figure is Macrocosmica's illustration of the Tychonic system. The right-hand figure is Macrocosmica's illustration of the Copernican system (the one Galileo supported).

The illustration behind Galileo is from the Harmonia Macrocosmica of Andreas Cellarius, as seen here. The left-hand figure is Macrocosmica's illustration of the Tychonic system. The right-hand figure is Macrocosmica's illustration of the Copernican system (the one Galileo supported).

So C is for Ciao is wrong about some things.  It should indeed celebrate Galileo’s accomplishments, but it should correctly present the business about proofs and people disrespecting facts, and it should put the correct picture behind Galileo.  But C is for Ciao is not alone.  Consider DK Eyewitness Travel: Italy 2016.  It says—

Galileo Galilei proved that the earth revolved around the sun, overturning Church doctrine.  He was convicted of heresy in 1633.  Here he shows the rings of Saturn to Venetian senators.

galileobooks4There’s “proved” again.  And Galileo could hardly see the rings of Saturn with his telescope, and he did not recognize them as being rings.  Viewing Saturn through his telescopes was very difficult.  I doubt he showed such a difficult object to non-astronomers.

But one can’t be too hard on C is for Ciao and Italy 2016.  After all, look at the edition of Galileo’s Dialogue that is currently available.  What is on its back cover?  “Galileo proved.”galileobooks5

Why do so many people view science as being about smart men proving plain truths and having to drag everyone else into the light of scientific facts (and getting punished for that).  Why do they not view it as being about a dynamic contest of ideas that are compatible with the facts (like Tycho vs. Copernicus)?  Perhaps because their views are formed by the books they read as children, or even by travel books.  Such books might be the only science history many people read.  It is important that the people who write these books do their research and not be disrespectful of historical facts.

 

Should you (or someone you love) go to MIT?
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Today is "PI" day (written in American style, 3/14...) and MIT is holding a one day fundraiser... In honor of this day, this provides me with an excuse to post something I wrote for my Live Journal account a few years ago and which I get asked about from parents (and grandparents) of prospective students all the time. Of course the MIT I attended was nearly half a century back, but things haven't changed all that much...

This was MIT's Bexley Hall, where I lived in the early 1970's. It was not nearly as neat on the inside. I barely recognize it here without the "Impeach Nixon" banner... It's recently been demolished. (We would have done it ourselves if they'd asked.)

Do I recommend MIT? Only if you are a very particular type of student.

There is a reason why schools like MIT are so rare: because for most people, it is the wrong school to go to.

MIT is not a place to find yourself. Because it is such an intense environment, it can be devastating to anyone who doesn't already have a strong sense of who they are, and where they want to go. (Mind you, after MIT is finished with you, the person you thought you were at 18 won't be the person you are at 22; but if that were not so, then what would be the point of going there?)

I roomed at MIT with my best friend from high school, and frankly he would have been much happier at a small liberal arts school. Another high school friend was admitted to some big name schools but wound up (for family/financial reasons) at the University of Detroit, which is a small Jesuit school, not a top-flight school; but he made a point of seeking out the best professors there, regardless of their subject matter, and as a result is one of the best-educated people I know. He got a better education there than most Harvard grads get. (His daughter went to Harvard.)

The fact is, you will learn exactly the same things in the classroom at the University of Michigan (or any other big state school) that you will at MIT, and in the classroom at Enormous State University you will find students just as capable and professors just as good at their work (and just as bad at their teaching); and that would be a whole lot cheaper and closer to home.

But... for me, MIT was exactly the right place to go. It (along with Peace Corps and the Jesuit novitiate) was one of the major experiences that formed my life, and I love the place to this day.

Here's what you get at MIT, and only MIT:

1. You get a degree that opens doors around the world... including doors inside yourself. There have been many times in my later career when I might have doubted my ability to move forward, but then looked at that MIT ring on my finger and told myself to suck it up and get back to work. For myself at least, I don't think a degree from Penn State would have given me that same sense of confidence.

2. You get an institute that immediately treats you as an adult, expecting you to take care of yourself. It doesn't give you an education so much as provide a place where you can educate yourself. This attitude is very different from what you find at most other colleges, who pride themselves on their support and guidance. You don't get much support or guidance at MIT. It can be scary to go to an institution that will happily let you fail.

3. On the other hand... you get an institution that is not out to weed people out. At big state schools, the attitude is that they've admitted more students than they can graduate, and so the first year or two is full of hurdles to test how much you really want to get an education. MIT is just the opposite; it is hard enough to get in, that they don't want to admit they made a mistake in admitting you! So, while they will give you enough rope to hang yourself, they will also be there to help you when you finally admit you need help. (But you have to take the first step.)

4. You get a student body where you will fit in; or at least where no one will judge you harshly for not fitting in. And where you will actually be given the space to learn how to interact and deal with other very smart people. Note that the majority of the students at MIT are not (as they are at Cal Tech, say), hopeless geeks. Yes, MIT has its large share of Asperger's, but they are not the majority! (Do you want to know what it is like being a student at MIT? See the movie Real Genius. Yes, it is actually based on Cal Tech, but it is the same idea; and it is not that much of an exaggeration.)

5. You're at the best location in Boston, which is the best city in the world to be a student.

6. You get the world's largest open-shelf collection of science fiction. (The sailing pavilion is excellent, too.)

Learning from a Flashlight in the Sky
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While many of us are dazzled by the spectacular examples of galaxies each one with its own 10-100 billion stars, some of us choose instead to study the regions between the galaxies.

There is a fair amount of hydrogen gas in this “intergalactic medium,” yet this gas typically is too faint to see directly in images. We are able to study this dim gas only by looking at how it affects the light coming from bright objects in the background called quasars.

There are a great many bright quasars, or galaxies with extremely bright nuclei, in the universe. These quasars each produce a tremendous amount of light much like the welcome sight of a flashlight on an otherwise dark and deserted hiking trail.

Indeed if you were to look at the flashlight of a distant hiker during an evening walk, you may see the flashlight seem to ‘flicker’ not because the battery was running out but rather as a result of obstructions along the way such as tree branches. By conducting such an experiment you may be able to discern how dense the foliage is between yourself and the other hiker. Similarly, by studying the amount and placement of artificial ‘flickers’ in the quasar light caused by the intervening hydrogen gas, we can put together the properties of that elusive environment.

What we find is that hydrogen in the intergalactic medium near the Milky Way is completely ionized, which means that the electrons have been stripped from the protons by UV light. So, if you are wondering if a powerful sunblock should be in order should you ever find yourself in between galaxies that the answer is yes (although there would likely be many other, more pressing concerns like the lack of water)!

From such studies of the absorption of light towards quasars we also learn that at that at an earlier time in cosmic history, the intergalactic medium was neutral. During that time each proton was still attached to an electron.

An interesting question to ask is which event or events happened in the universe to cause the intergalactic medium to suffer a deluge of UV light which ionized all the hydrogen atoms? While the current cause of this “reionization” is still unknown, one hypothesis is that faint, small and fairly weak galaxies in the early universe were the culprits. Although the UV light production of any one 'dwarf' galaxy is small, they win owing to their steady production rate and large numbers.

Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
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This column first ran in The Tablet in March 2014

Isaac Newton thought that planetary orbits in our solar system were kept stable by God’s direct intervention; they were proof to him that God existed. A hundred years later, the great French mathematician and skeptic Pierre-Simon Laplace described his new orbital theory to Napoleon and supposedly quipped of God’s role, “I have no need for that hypothesis.” In fact, it is bad theology to reduce God to merely a gap-filling hypothesis. Only recently, however, have we learned that, actually, planetary motions may sometimes not be so stable after all.

I took this selfie with Jack Wisdom in St. Peter's Square where we went to hear the Sunday Angelus

One of the pioneers of studying chaos theory in celestial dynamics is Jack Wisdom, an MIT professor (and MacArthur “genius”) who is visiting the Vatican Observatory this month. He’s working now on modeling the complex interaction between the Moon’s orbit and spin with the spin and orbit of the Earth. It’s all tied to the larger issue of the origin of the Moon.

After the Apollo program ended, more than forty years ago, the study of the Moon went into a gradual decline. The annual “Lunar Science Conference” in Houston changed it name to the “Lunar and Planetary Science Conference” as other bodies, especially Mars, began to dominate its sessions. But in the last ten years, a series of Moon probes (including some from Japan, India, and China) have taken a new look at our nearest neighbor. In September 2013, the Royal Society hosted a big meeting on the topic; and the 2014 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference opened with a special session on “new perspectives of the Moon.”

This photo of the moon was taken at the Vatican's 16-inch refractor in Castel Gandolfo, so long ago that I forget what camera we used...

Understanding how the Moon was formed can tell us how planets form in general. What’s more, its early evolution should also have affected conditions on Earth while life was getting started here. Both questions figure into our guesses about the likelihood of planets with life elsewhere in space.

The Moon’s origin is a thorny problem in both celestial mechanics and geochemistry. Unlike meteorites or Mars rocks, Moon rocks are identical to Earth’s in many subtle chemical ways. But compared to Earth, the Moon lacks water, a big iron core, and certain other elements. The least-bad theory we have to date suggests the Moon was formed when a Mars-sized object hit Earth while the planets were forming, four and a half billion years ago. (The idea of rogue Mars-sized impactors seemed unlikely until computer models showed that planets big and small were changing orbits, chaotically, back then.) A mix of Earth and impactor material could explain the Moon’s chemistry; but actually forming the Moon from such debris into its slightly inclined, elliptical orbit is trickier.

That’s where Jack’s work comes in. From the quiet of the Pope’s summer gardens, he connects via the internet to a cluster of computers back in Cambridge, Massachusetts running a series of simulations for the tidal evolution of the early Moon. Its final orbit depends on how energy is dissipated within the Earth and the Moon (my own work plays a small part in understanding that question). But under certain conditions, the Moon’s spin becomes chaotic, varying unpredictably even when the calculations start with identical conditions.

Unpredictable is not the same as unconstrained; these bodies still operate under Newton’s deterministic laws. But the different forces interact such that tiny uncertainties in the initial conditions (or even just round-off error in the calculations) can lead to wildly different results. Thus in practice we can cannot determine what outcome is certain, but only which is most likely.

Laplace’s experience led him to believe that as our maths got more advanced, our ability to explain things would become ever more precise. But in fact the opposite has occurred. We know better now the boundaries of what we can know for certain.

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: Treasure from Heaven
  70. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  71. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  72. Across the Universe: Awareness
  73. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  74. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  75. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  76. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  77. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  78. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  79. Across the Universe: Changelings
  80. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  81. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  82. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  83. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  84. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  85. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  86. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  87. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  88. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  89. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  90. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  91. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  92. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  93. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  94. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  95. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  96. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  97. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  98. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  99. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  100. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  101. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  102. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  103. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  104. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  105. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  106. Across the Universe: View from afar
  107. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  108. Across the Universe: Global warning
  109. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  110. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  111. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  112. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us

View the entire series

Copernicus’s On the Revolutions—A Book That Continues to Challenge
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Last week's post featured old science books from the William Marshall Bullitt Collection in the Archives and Special Collections (ASC) of the Ekstrom Library of the University of Louisville here in Kentucky, and readers of this blog may recall an earlier post about the collection, too.  I currently have the enjoyable task of studying the books in the collection and writing discussions of them for the ASC—discussions specifically intended for a diverse audience that might include scholars, students at varying levels, and interested members of the general public.  One of the books in the collection that no doubt would interest readers of this blog (and that readers can go to see and study at the University of Louisville) is Nicolas Copernicus’s 1543 De Revolutionibus Orbium Cœlestium, or On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres.  This post is an adaptation (with permission) of the discussion I wrote for the ASC.

De Revolutionibus is a book that challenged scientists and non-scientists alike when it was written, and that continues to challenge today.  Yet it established the modern view both of the universe and of humankind’s place within the universe.  It boldly postulated that, although we clearly see the sun, moon, and other celestial bodies rising and setting around us, the Earth is actually not the center of the universe, and those bodies do not move around us.  Rather, the Earth is a planet—a celestial body like Jupiter or Mars.

copernicus1Of course today we understand the Earth (along with the other planets) to circle the sun.  The page within De Revolutionibus that illustrates what we today call the Solar System is probably the one page of a rare book that the most people have seen.  But consider the implications of what Copernicus postulates.  The Earth measures twenty-five thousand miles in circumference.  Copernicus supposes the Earth to have a daily rotation which causes the rising and setting of the sun.  Thus, following Copernicus, objects on Earth’s equator are carried all the way around Earth’s circumference each day: 25,000 miles in 24 hours, implying a speed of over 1,000 miles per hour—well faster than the speed of sound, and nearly double the cruising speed of a 747 jet.  (Objects at mid-latitude move not quite so fast: the person who studies the Bullitt Collection’s copy of De Revolutionibus on site in Louisville moves merely in excess of 800 miles per hour—still well over the speed of sound).

Why do we not notice this prodigious speed?  The answer to this question, says Copernicus, is common motion: we, the Earth, the objects around us, and even the air we breathe are all hurtling along together, and so we do not notice the motion: “for when a ship is floating calmly along,” he says, “the sailors see its motion mirrored in everything outside, while . . . they suppose that they are stationary, together with everything on board”; or as he quotes from Virgil in the Aeneid, “Forth from the harbor we sail, and the land and the cities slip backward.”

Meanwhile, the speed at which Copernicus supposes Earth to circle the sun dwarfs even the speed of Earth’s rotation.  Why do we not see evidence of the motion of the Earth against the supposedly unmoving stars?  As Earth itself sails forth, why do we not see the stars slip backward?  The answer to this, says Copernicus, is that the stars are so far away that Earth’s motion is of no consequence by comparison.  “So vast,” he says, “without any question, is the divine handiwork of the most excellent Almighty.”

What prompted Copernicus to develop a theory that is so counter-intuitive—a theory that does such violence to our common-sense observations of sunrise and sunset, that requires such dramatic motions, and yet provides no evidence for those motions?  Within De Revolutionibus Copernicus cites the difficulty astronomers historically faced in figuring out the locations of Venus and Mercury within a common-sense, Earth-centered cosmos.  These planets do not wander far from the sun.  They are visible only before dawn or after dusk, never at midnight.  The only truly satisfactory explanation for their affinity for the sun, says Copernicus, is that provided by the fifth-century writer Martianus Capella: that in fact Mercury and Venus each circle the sun.  Expand this idea to include all the planets, he says, plus the Earth, all circling the sun, and what is formed but a single harmonious system (which he illustrates by that famous diagram) a system that explains all aspects of the motions of all the planets.

This idea—that the Earth is a planet like Jupiter or Mars or Venus—may have changed our view of our place within the universe, and it seems so influential today, but in fact at the time it was beset by scientific difficulties.  An Earth that rotates daily is not like a ship on the sea in which all parts move along together, for the equator moves the fastest, the poles not at all.  Thus a ball thrown northward continually passes over ground that moves progressively slower.  Should this not reveal itself?  And if the stars must be so far away that Earth’s motion is comparatively of no consequence, then those stars would have to be absurdly enormous and powerful—every one far greater than even the sun—to explain their apparent sizes in the sky of Earth, small though those sizes may be.  Moreover, while the Copernican system appears harmonious and simple and elegant in that famous diagram, that diagram leaves out many complicated details.  In fact, to explain the details of planetary motion Copernicus invoked complicated mechanisms such as epicycles (each planet rode on a smaller circle which in turn rode on the larger circle of that planet’s orbit about the sun).  Still more complex mechanisms held the Earth in an orientation fixed relative to the stars, even as it moved about the sun, so as to explain the seasons.  Copernicus died in 1543, the year the book was published, so those who were persuaded by De Revolutionibus had to develop their own answers to these difficulties.

A figure from De Revolutionibus showing the possible motion of the Earth around the sun. The sun is at C. The orbit of Earth is AIB, but riding on this is epicycle DAE and on that is another epicycle FDG. The Earth rides on FDG. This complicated machinery was one possible explanation the Copernicus proposed to explain certain changes in the apparent size of the sun. This and the previous image are both of the Bullitt Collection copy of De Revolutionibus in Louisville, Kentucky.

A figure from De Revolutionibus showing the possible motion of the Earth around the sun. The sun is at C. The orbit of Earth is AIB, but riding on this is epicycle DAE and on that is another epicycle FDG. The Earth rides on FDG. This complicated machinery was one possible explanation that Copernicus proposed to explain certain changes in the apparent size of the sun. This and the previous image are both of the Bullitt Collection copy of De Revolutionibus in Louisville, Kentucky.

Not all of those answers would be considered scientifically persuasive today.  For example, Copernicans resorted to direct appeals to the Power of God to explain the problem of the enormous stars.  Invoking language referring to the work of the Almighty (such as Copernicus himself used when discussing the stars), they claimed that an almighty God could make enormous stars if he so wished.  Giovanni Battista Riccioli, a critic of the Copernican system more than a century after De Revolutionibus was published, noted that using such an appeal to solve a scientific problem was in a sense indisputable (for who can argue with Divine Power?) but it did not satisfy the prudent person.

In time, however, all these difficulties would be addressed in ways that would satisfy the prudent person.  The differing speeds on a rotating Earth turned out to in fact produce detectable effects (the University of Louisville’s Grawmeyer Hall features a “Foucault Pendulum” that is both a manifestation of such an effect and an illustration of the daily rotation of the Earth).  The enormous sizes of stars proved to be a spurious issue, their apparent sizes in fact being an artefact of the wave nature of light, and not a reflection of their real sizes.  The complicated mechanisms Copernicus used were eliminated by Johannes Kepler, who showed that the planets do not move in circular orbits about the sun, but in in slightly elliptical orbits that eliminate the need for added complexities, and by Isaac Newton, who developed a physics that explains all aspects of planetary motions using a few basic concepts.

But more than a century would be required for the scientific difficulties to be fully ironed out, and in the meantime skilled anti-Copernican astronomers like Riccioli, and before him Tycho Brahe, would argue that the Copernican theory, while elegant and useful, was scientifically untenable.  They would promote an alternate theory in which planets orbit the sun while the sun, moon, and not-so-distant-and-large stars orbit a centrally placed, motionless Earth.

De Revolutionibus continues to challenge our views of Earth’s place in the universe.  Prior to Copernicus, astronomers and philosophers thought the heavens were a different sort of place than the Earth—an unchanging realm made of unearthly, everlasting material.  There were no other worlds like Earth, only celestial lights that we called, for example, “Jupiter.”  The universe was supposed to have never had a beginning, and to never see an end.  But Copernicus, in making the Earth a celestial body like Jupiter, also made Jupiter a world like Earth—a world subject to change, and most likely inhabited by intelligent Jovians.  Kepler supposed Jupiter to be inhabited.  Another Copernican, Christiaan Huygens, wrote about the sailing ships of the Jovians.

Yet the idea that the other planets are other Earths has not withstood the test of time.  Jupiter appears today to be devoid, not only of intelligent life, but perhaps of life entirely.  The same holds true for the other solar system planets.  They are diverse bodies, not merely other Earths.  The discovery of “exoplanets” orbiting other stars has revealed that this diversity extends out into the stars: the typical planetary system, if there is such a thing, is not like our solar system; most exoplanets are not likely to be similar to Earth.  Indeed, today we know that even the stars we see—both the sun and those stars we see at night—are not typical stars.  The overwhelming majority of stars are “red dwarves” that are smaller and far dimmer than the sun, and too faint to see with the eye.  Thus Earth is neither the center of the universe, nor just another among a myriad of largely similar worlds.  Our understanding of our place within the great diversity of the universe continues to evolve.

Copernicus also led us to understand that the universe itself evolves.  If Jupiter is a world like Earth, then it is subject to the same laws as Earth, and to the same processes of change.  De Revolutionibus led to astronomers and philosophers having to let go of the idea of an eternal, unchanging universe, and to their being driven eventually to the idea of a universe with a beginning (in a “Big Bang”), a universe that evolved in time.  Many scientists have found this idea troubling, and too close to religious accounts of the creation of the universe.  But even a supernaturally created Copernican universe must evolve.  The stars are indeed vastly distant, so much so that light from them requires years to reach Earth.  So did Adam in the Book of Genesis see the stars on his first night, so that on that first night the universe already had the appearance of age?  Or did they appear one by one over the years as the light of each star reached to Earth, so that the night sky evolved in time?  No world view stands unchallenged by Copernicus.

And so even five centuries after Nicolaus Copernicus wrote it, De Revolutionibus continues to challenge all who engage with its bold claims.  It is a remarkable work.  Few other books can match its boldness and its impact.