Posts by Brother Guy Consolmagno

Across the Universe: Fast changes
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Sunrise in June from the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo. This particular sunrise occurred during the Transit of Venus on June 6, 2012

This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2013

Summer began [in 2013] on Friday morning, 21 June, at 5:14 am GMT...in the northern hemisphere, of course; south of the equator, it’s winter. [The summer solstice 2017 in Northern Hemisphere occurred at 4:24 am GMT on Wednesday, June 21.]

This definition is based on the precise orientation of the Earth in its orbit. The Earth is tilted relative to its orbit, and like a gyroscope its spin axis stays pointed in the same direction, year round. In a convenient coincidence for navigators, our north pole is pointed near the star Polaris. Polaris is not directly above the Sun; it’s directly above Earth’s tilted spin axis. In June, the Earth is in the part of its orbit where it’s on one side of the Sun, and Polaris is on the other side. The northern half of the Earth, tilted towards Polaris, is also tilted towards the Sun; that’s why it gets warmer. The moment when Sun and Polaris are exactly lined up is the solstice, the beginning of our northern summer; that’s what occurred on June 21. Since the other hemisphere is pointed away, it’s winter there. Six months later, December 21, the positions and the seasons are reversed.

Julius Caesar’s “365 days plus a leap year” calendar almost exactly matched the time interval from solstice to solstice – off by less than a day per century. But after 1500 years the error had built up to ten days. Thus Pope Gregory XIII hired some astronomers to tweak the calendar, the first incarnation of the Vatican Observatory.

In the north we see the Sun in the southern sky; Australia always sees it in the north. In effect, we’re looking past the equator towards the Sun. When I lived in Kenya, on the equator, as the year progressed the Sun would first warm the northern half of my apartment, then move to warm the southern side. But what I also noticed in Kenya was that, even with the Sun spending as much time on one side as the other, January was actually much warmer than July. That’s because the Earth’s orbit is an ellipse, not a perfect circle. We are actually closer to the Sun in early January, and furthest away on the 4th of July. (Notice there’s about a five fewer days of northern winter than northern summer – recall how February’s shortchanged. Because of our elliptical orbit we move faster through the northern winter months.)

But the ellipticity of Earth’s orbit, and the position and tilt of our axis, are all items that slowly change with time. Over tens to hundreds of thousands of years, as they change our climate changes. We can see this in the geological record.

A slightly warmer winter in the north means we have moister, hence snowier, winters than in the south. As it happens there’s more landmass in the north, as well, to accumulate this snow. This accident of northern continental positions with warm wet winters, thanks to Earth’s current orbit, means we are actually in a mini ice age right now. Until recently, this has been carefully balanced by the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which keeps us from freezing over.

The issue with climate change isn’t that it’s changing; it has always changed. The problem is the rate of change. In the past fifty years the carbon dioxide has increased by 25%, hitting 400 ppm [in 2013]. That's faster than our human institutions can cope. Our cities are not built to withstand the energetic storms that become more common when more carbon dioxide holds more energy in the air. Our seaports are vulnerable to a rising sea level as the pole caps melt.

In our own lives we make free choices, within parameters set by circumstances beyond our control. Likewise, dealing with climate change the trick is to find those things we actually can do something about; and then make wise choices.

Also in Across the Universe

  1. Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
  2. Across the Universe: Fools from the East
  3. Across the Universe: Hunches
  4. Across the Universe: Desert or a dessert?
  5. Across the Universe: Stardust messages
  6. Across the Universe: The best way to travel
  7. Across the Universe: Original Proof
  8. Across the Universe: Pearls among Swine
  9. Across the Universe: One Fix Leads to Another
  10. Across the Universe: Limits to Understanding
  11. Across the Universe: The Glory of a Giant
  12. Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
  13. Across the Universe: Science as Story
  14. Across the Universe: Recognition
  15. Across the Universe: Tending Towards Paganism
  16. Across the Universe: The Ethics of Extraterrestrials
  17. Across the Universe: Orbiting a New Sun
  18. Across the Universe: Seeing the Light
  19. Across the Universe: DIY Religion
  20. Across the Universe: Truth, Beauty, and a Good Lawyer
  21. Across the Universe: Techie Dreams
  22. Across the Universe: By Paper, to the Stars
  23. Across the Universe: Transit of Venus
  24. Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
  25. Across the Universe: Deep Impact
  26. Across the Universe: New Worlds
  27. Across the Universe: Tom Swift and his Helium Pycnometer
  28. Across the Universe: Tradition… and Pluto
  29. Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
  30. Across the Universe: Key to the Sea and Sky
  31. Across the Universe: Off The Beach
  32. Across the Universe: All of the Above
  33. From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
  34. Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
  35. Across the Universe: Help My Unbelief
  36. Across the Universe: Stories of Another World
  37. Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
  38. Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
  39. Across the Universe: New Heavens, New Earth
  40. Across the Universe: Souvenirs from Space
  41. Across the Universe: For the love of the stars…
  42. Across the Universe: Spicy planet stories
  43. Across the Universe: Asking the right questions
  44. Across the Universe: Everything You Know Is Wrong
  45. Across the Universe: Errata
  46. Across the Universe: Clouds of Unknowing
  47. Across the Universe: Being Asked the Right Questions
  48. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  49. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  50. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  51. Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
  52. Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
  53. Across the Universe: Relish the Red Planet
  54. Across the Universe: Obedience
  55. Across the Universe: Traveling Light
  56. Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
  57. Across the Universe: Europa
  58. Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
  59. Across the Universe: Forbidden Transitions
  60. Across the Universe: Genre and Truth
  61. Across the Universe: False Economies
  62. Across the Universe: Reflections on a Mirror
  63. Across the Universe: Japan
  64. From the Tablet: Why is Easter So Early This Year?
  65. Across the Universe: Oops!
  66. Across the Universe: Dramatic Science
  67. Across the Universe: Me and My Shadows
  68. Across the Universe: Touch the Sky
  69. Across the Universe: The Eye of the Lynx
  70. Across the Universe: Treasure from Heaven
  71. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  72. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  73. Across the Universe: Awareness
  74. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  75. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  76. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  77. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  78. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  79. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  80. Across the Universe: Changelings
  81. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  82. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  83. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  84. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  85. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  86. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  87. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  88. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  89. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  90. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  91. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  92. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  93. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  94. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  95. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  96. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  97. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  98. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  99. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  100. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  101. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  102. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  103. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  104. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  105. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  106. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  107. Across the Universe: View from afar
  108. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  109. Across the Universe: Global warning
  110. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  111. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  112. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  113. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
  114. Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
  115. Across the Universe: Rocket Science
  116. Across the Universe: Maybe
  117. Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
  118. Across the Universe: Edge of the World
  119. Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
  120. Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
  121. Across the Universe: Song of Praise
  122. Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
  123. Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
  124. Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
  125. Across the Universe: Fast changes

View the entire series

An interfaith fellowship on religion and science
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It comes in the mail...

This might be very interesting to the readers of our blog... with Rabbi Geoff Mitelman's permission, I am posting here his email to me:

I'm writing to you because my organization, Sinai and Synapses, bridges the worlds of religion and science, and aims to elevate the public discourse in general. We have just opened applications for an interfaith Fellowship on religion and science, where we will bring together a select group of academics, clergy and writers for learning, networking and content creation in New York six times over two years. Through a generous grant, we will also be able to cover travel for all the meetings, (within North America).

We want to make sure we have a diverse collection of Fellows, so I wondered if you might know people who would be good candidates to apply, or even if you could share it in your networks.

Obviously, we can't promise anything, since we don't know how many applications we'll receive, and we will also have our own internal considerations as we balance scientific backgrounds, religious diversity, and gender balance in terms of whom we select. But I thought you would be a good person to reach out to in order to find some great potential candidates.

The link is below, and please let me know if you have any questions.

http://sinaiandsynapses.org/sinai-and-synapses-fellowship/

All good things,

Rabbi Geoff Mitelman

Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
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This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2016

Over the past thirty years the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo has been hosting a biennial summer school, where we invite young scholars from around the world to spend four weeks with us, exploring in depth some topic in astrophysics. [The 2016] school was centered on water in the solar system and beyond. It’s an area that I’ve worked in since I was a young scholar myself; my master’s thesis, now more than 40 years old, was all about Jupiter and Saturn’s icy moons.

This artist's conception (courtesy of NASA) shows a view of Europa that I could only imagine when I wrote my thesis about it in 1975

All of my work on the topic, of course, is long obsolete. Just four years after I had made my computer models to predict what we’d see at those moons, the Voyager spacecraft actually visited Jupiter and revealed its moons to be worlds far more elaborate than anything I could have proposed. Still, the basic science hasn’t changed; at our school we taught how to use properties like density and surface colors, things we can observe, to infer the things we can’t observe about a world’s interior and history.

At the end of the day, such models are still just flights of fancy, no matter how detailed the calculations. I know from my own experience how tempting it is to fall in love with some elaborate imagining of how the universe ought to be, and forget to look up out of the computer screen (or punch cards and printout, back when I was doing that work) to see if we have drifted too far from reality.

I recall my first Meteoritical Society meeting, in 1976, when I had just presented some elaborate and rather clever models (so I believed) for how a class of basaltic meteorites were formed. After my talk, I was stopped in the hallway by one of the grand old men in the field, Gerry Wasserburg. A professor at Cal Tech, he was one of the leading researchers on the newly-returned Apollo samples from the moon, building a lab for moon rocks at Cal Tech he famously referred to as The Lunatic Asylum. His brilliance was matched by his irascibility, reflecting his time as a young combat infantryman during World War Two.

“That was a fine talk,” he conceded, to my surprise. “But… do you really believe it?”

Belief is central to faith of course; but it is essential in all our activities. And science in particular reminds us that we have to be prepared to admit when our belief is, perhaps, hasty. I believed what I presented at that meeting in 1976; I don’t anymore. It’s not that I was wrong, but after 40 years of new data from both modern lab equipment and spacecraft visiting the asteroids where the meteorites came from, I understand now how my models were terribly incomplete. And yet, I would never have known what to look for in the lab, or at the asteroid, without those models – without that belief.

In the popular mind, science is a big book of unassailable facts. But the one unchanging fact of science is that it is always incomplete, and quickly obsolete. My thesis written in 1975 is only of historical interest today. Even Wasserburg’s groundbreaking laboratory measurements have been superseded by newer, more precise data. As we get older, our points of view change. Our summer school students see me as a “grand old man”; I’m older than Wasserburg was in 1976.

Gerry Wasserburg, as I remember him, from the Cal Tech site...

In 1995, Gerry Wasserburg visited my meteorite lab at the Vatican and we shared stories of when we’d first met. He retired from Cal Tech a few years ago. And he died [in June of 2016], at the age of 89.

Also in Across the Universe

  1. Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
  2. Across the Universe: Fools from the East
  3. Across the Universe: Hunches
  4. Across the Universe: Desert or a dessert?
  5. Across the Universe: Stardust messages
  6. Across the Universe: The best way to travel
  7. Across the Universe: Original Proof
  8. Across the Universe: Pearls among Swine
  9. Across the Universe: One Fix Leads to Another
  10. Across the Universe: Limits to Understanding
  11. Across the Universe: The Glory of a Giant
  12. Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
  13. Across the Universe: Science as Story
  14. Across the Universe: Recognition
  15. Across the Universe: Tending Towards Paganism
  16. Across the Universe: The Ethics of Extraterrestrials
  17. Across the Universe: Orbiting a New Sun
  18. Across the Universe: Seeing the Light
  19. Across the Universe: DIY Religion
  20. Across the Universe: Truth, Beauty, and a Good Lawyer
  21. Across the Universe: Techie Dreams
  22. Across the Universe: By Paper, to the Stars
  23. Across the Universe: Transit of Venus
  24. Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
  25. Across the Universe: Deep Impact
  26. Across the Universe: New Worlds
  27. Across the Universe: Tom Swift and his Helium Pycnometer
  28. Across the Universe: Tradition… and Pluto
  29. Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
  30. Across the Universe: Key to the Sea and Sky
  31. Across the Universe: Off The Beach
  32. Across the Universe: All of the Above
  33. From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
  34. Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
  35. Across the Universe: Help My Unbelief
  36. Across the Universe: Stories of Another World
  37. Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
  38. Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
  39. Across the Universe: New Heavens, New Earth
  40. Across the Universe: Souvenirs from Space
  41. Across the Universe: For the love of the stars…
  42. Across the Universe: Spicy planet stories
  43. Across the Universe: Asking the right questions
  44. Across the Universe: Everything You Know Is Wrong
  45. Across the Universe: Errata
  46. Across the Universe: Clouds of Unknowing
  47. Across the Universe: Being Asked the Right Questions
  48. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  49. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  50. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  51. Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
  52. Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
  53. Across the Universe: Relish the Red Planet
  54. Across the Universe: Obedience
  55. Across the Universe: Traveling Light
  56. Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
  57. Across the Universe: Europa
  58. Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
  59. Across the Universe: Forbidden Transitions
  60. Across the Universe: Genre and Truth
  61. Across the Universe: False Economies
  62. Across the Universe: Reflections on a Mirror
  63. Across the Universe: Japan
  64. From the Tablet: Why is Easter So Early This Year?
  65. Across the Universe: Oops!
  66. Across the Universe: Dramatic Science
  67. Across the Universe: Me and My Shadows
  68. Across the Universe: Touch the Sky
  69. Across the Universe: The Eye of the Lynx
  70. Across the Universe: Treasure from Heaven
  71. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  72. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  73. Across the Universe: Awareness
  74. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  75. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  76. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  77. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  78. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  79. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  80. Across the Universe: Changelings
  81. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  82. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  83. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  84. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  85. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  86. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  87. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  88. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  89. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  90. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  91. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  92. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  93. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  94. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  95. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  96. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  97. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  98. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  99. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  100. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  101. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  102. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  103. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  104. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  105. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  106. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  107. Across the Universe: View from afar
  108. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  109. Across the Universe: Global warning
  110. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  111. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  112. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  113. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
  114. Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
  115. Across the Universe: Rocket Science
  116. Across the Universe: Maybe
  117. Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
  118. Across the Universe: Edge of the World
  119. Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
  120. Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
  121. Across the Universe: Song of Praise
  122. Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
  123. Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
  124. Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
  125. Across the Universe: Fast changes

View the entire series

Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
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This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2015

‘Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment? With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify.’ -- Pope Benedict XVI

At Notre Dame University [in June 2015], Katharine Mahon, a doctoral student in theology, reminded me of this passage from Pope Benedict’s Easter 2012 homily. One of the striking hallmarks of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si', was how it was rooted in the theology and writings of his predecessors, like the passage above.

Just as our badly-overlit cities blind us to the stars, our desire to wrap ourselves in the soft wool of technology insulates us from the reality of God’s presence – not to mention drowning out the cry of our neighbor. Turn up the headphones, and ignore the fellow by the side of the road; let some Samaritan take care of him. Notice the irony. The same technology borne of a science like astronomy can in turn make more astronomy harder to accomplish. For the same reason, I dread the arrival of the first humans on Mars since bacteria leaking from some astronaut will likely overwhelm any indigenous life forms. Science can be its own worst enemy.

My time living in rural Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer (here I'm visiting a fellow teacher) taught me what life was like outside the cotton wrapping. It reignited my love of astronomy.

This disconnect between the natural world and our citified lives is a theme of James Rebanks’ [2015] book, The Shepherd’s Life. His descriptions, at times graphic, of a shepherd’s routine in the Lake District reveals a reality that was both beautiful and hidden to me, for all the times I’ve gone hiking up The Old Man of Coniston. But to me the most disturbing descriptions in his book were not, say, the details of birthing lambs in the mud of early spring. (Let’s just say, it gives a graphic zest to Pope Francis’ call for the Church to be shepherds who “smell of the sheep”!) Rather, it was his description of his own education, in a system that valued schooling only in terms of careers, and valued not at all his career as a shepherd.

I was at Notre Dame as part of a workshop for Catholic high school teachers to integrate science and religion in their curricula. Their horror stories of classroom challenges (in one class of 17-year-olds, half the students still believed that the Church vehemently opposes evolution!) speak to the struggle we have to be heard over the deafening noise of our culture.

But any high school teacher can tell you, the way to be heard over classroom noise is not to shout but to whisper. Small is beautiful, as Pope Francis reminds us… a theme long promoted by Catholics like G. K. Chesterton and E. F. Schumacher. Likewise, James Rebanks’ book appeals for small indigenous farmers worldwide to follow the example of the Lakeland shepherds, again echoing the Pope’s encyclical.

Conversations and conversions cannot occur in flashy mass movements. They soon become self-parodies, like a rock band preaching ecological constraint with electric instruments amplified to ten zillion watts. Revolutionary monocultures get co-opted by the very interests they threaten.

But as an astronomer I measure one star at a time. One teacher’s chance comment in Rebanks’ school eventually led him to an Oxford degree and his best-selling book. The teachers at Notre Dame told us of their successes: students one by one growing in faith and science. We need the personal discipline to turn off one light at a time, to rescue one lamb at a time.

Jesus didn’t expect us to save the whole world; that was His job. Our homework for today is to help one neighbor.

Also in Across the Universe

  1. Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
  2. Across the Universe: Fools from the East
  3. Across the Universe: Hunches
  4. Across the Universe: Desert or a dessert?
  5. Across the Universe: Stardust messages
  6. Across the Universe: The best way to travel
  7. Across the Universe: Original Proof
  8. Across the Universe: Pearls among Swine
  9. Across the Universe: One Fix Leads to Another
  10. Across the Universe: Limits to Understanding
  11. Across the Universe: The Glory of a Giant
  12. Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
  13. Across the Universe: Science as Story
  14. Across the Universe: Recognition
  15. Across the Universe: Tending Towards Paganism
  16. Across the Universe: The Ethics of Extraterrestrials
  17. Across the Universe: Orbiting a New Sun
  18. Across the Universe: Seeing the Light
  19. Across the Universe: DIY Religion
  20. Across the Universe: Truth, Beauty, and a Good Lawyer
  21. Across the Universe: Techie Dreams
  22. Across the Universe: By Paper, to the Stars
  23. Across the Universe: Transit of Venus
  24. Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
  25. Across the Universe: Deep Impact
  26. Across the Universe: New Worlds
  27. Across the Universe: Tom Swift and his Helium Pycnometer
  28. Across the Universe: Tradition… and Pluto
  29. Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
  30. Across the Universe: Key to the Sea and Sky
  31. Across the Universe: Off The Beach
  32. Across the Universe: All of the Above
  33. From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
  34. Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
  35. Across the Universe: Help My Unbelief
  36. Across the Universe: Stories of Another World
  37. Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
  38. Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
  39. Across the Universe: New Heavens, New Earth
  40. Across the Universe: Souvenirs from Space
  41. Across the Universe: For the love of the stars…
  42. Across the Universe: Spicy planet stories
  43. Across the Universe: Asking the right questions
  44. Across the Universe: Everything You Know Is Wrong
  45. Across the Universe: Errata
  46. Across the Universe: Clouds of Unknowing
  47. Across the Universe: Being Asked the Right Questions
  48. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  49. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  50. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  51. Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
  52. Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
  53. Across the Universe: Relish the Red Planet
  54. Across the Universe: Obedience
  55. Across the Universe: Traveling Light
  56. Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
  57. Across the Universe: Europa
  58. Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
  59. Across the Universe: Forbidden Transitions
  60. Across the Universe: Genre and Truth
  61. Across the Universe: False Economies
  62. Across the Universe: Reflections on a Mirror
  63. Across the Universe: Japan
  64. From the Tablet: Why is Easter So Early This Year?
  65. Across the Universe: Oops!
  66. Across the Universe: Dramatic Science
  67. Across the Universe: Me and My Shadows
  68. Across the Universe: Touch the Sky
  69. Across the Universe: The Eye of the Lynx
  70. Across the Universe: Treasure from Heaven
  71. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  72. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  73. Across the Universe: Awareness
  74. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  75. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  76. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  77. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  78. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  79. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  80. Across the Universe: Changelings
  81. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  82. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  83. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  84. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  85. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  86. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  87. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  88. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  89. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  90. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  91. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  92. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  93. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  94. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  95. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  96. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  97. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  98. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  99. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  100. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  101. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  102. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  103. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  104. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  105. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  106. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  107. Across the Universe: View from afar
  108. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  109. Across the Universe: Global warning
  110. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  111. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  112. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  113. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
  114. Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
  115. Across the Universe: Rocket Science
  116. Across the Universe: Maybe
  117. Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
  118. Across the Universe: Edge of the World
  119. Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
  120. Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
  121. Across the Universe: Song of Praise
  122. Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
  123. Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
  124. Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
  125. Across the Universe: Fast changes

View the entire series

Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
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This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2014

[In 2014] Heythrop College celebrated its 400th anniversary. Originally founded in Belgium to educate British Jesuits, it moved back to England during the French Reign of Terror. Located since then at various locations, it finally moved to London in 1970, becoming a part of the University of London in 1971. An anniversary like this calls for a party, of course. On June 19-20, hundreds of scholars gathered at Senate House to reflect on Jesuit scholarship. Among the celebrants were Lord Williams and Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicholas. I was invited to talk on Jesuit science.

[The link above is the recording of my talk, and runs about 55 minutes; in my opinion, it's more entertaining than this column was!]

What has been the particular Jesuit mark on science? One thing that struck me was how entering the Jesuits order gave young men the chance to be a scientist regardless of family wealth or status. Athanasius Kircher, the youngest of nine children from a clerk’s family, became one of the most educated men of the 17th century; James Macelwane dropped out of high school to work on the family farm, but as a Jesuit he became a key figure in modern geophysics.

These well trained men were often missioned to exotic frontiers. In the late 1500s Fr. José de Acosta was able write the first detailed study of the natural and social history of South America because he had been sent there – a trip as rare then as traveling into space today. And being a Jesuit provided instant credibility, opening doors in certain circles that other contemporaries could not access. Thus in the mid 1700s Roger Boscovich was to change the Church’s stance on the heliocentric system.

But every advantage has its matching cost. That Jesuit education is also is quite lengthy, taking more than 12 years toward ordination, not counting the time needed for a PhD. Likewise, while a Jesuit scientist may be sent to wonderful places, he is also under obedience to leave them behind; after his pioneering work in South America, Fr. Acosta wound up sent back to Spain as the rector of a Jesuit university community.

A Jesuit scientist, supported by the order, is often not tied to a three-year funding cycle or six-year tenure review. Thus we have the time – it may take decades – to catalogue double stars, seismic velocities, or patterns in climate or terrestrial magnetic fields. Jesuits, for instance, invented the basic taxonomy of the plants of India. But this sort of science often meant that their work was unappreciated by their immediate peers. Famously in the 19th century the Whig historian and politician Thomas Macaulay sneered that the Jesuits “appear to have discovered the precise point to which intellectual culture can be carried without risk of intellectual emancipation” and that being a Jesuit “has a tendency to suffocate, rather than to develop, original genius.”

The unspoken assumption of someone like Macaulay is that one does science for the glory it brings upon the scientist. But Jesuits do science (or at least, we ought to) not for personal advancement, but for the love of the truth that science can reveal.

The glory that comes from the science ought to be reflected on the Author of creation, not on the person who happens to have revealed some detail of that creation. And our scientific scholarship contributes to the good reputation of the Jesuit order in particular, and the Church in general. I have had Jesuits in the faith and justice apostolate tell me that the credibility they have as Jesuits from our accomplishments helps them in their work, just as their work gives credibility to us.

Father General Nicholas emphasized this very point in a letter issued just last month. “Whether we work in universities, periodicals, social centers, retreat houses or research laboratories,” he wrote, “…the intellectual dimension is part of all our ministries.”

Also in Across the Universe

  1. Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
  2. Across the Universe: Fools from the East
  3. Across the Universe: Hunches
  4. Across the Universe: Desert or a dessert?
  5. Across the Universe: Stardust messages
  6. Across the Universe: The best way to travel
  7. Across the Universe: Original Proof
  8. Across the Universe: Pearls among Swine
  9. Across the Universe: One Fix Leads to Another
  10. Across the Universe: Limits to Understanding
  11. Across the Universe: The Glory of a Giant
  12. Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
  13. Across the Universe: Science as Story
  14. Across the Universe: Recognition
  15. Across the Universe: Tending Towards Paganism
  16. Across the Universe: The Ethics of Extraterrestrials
  17. Across the Universe: Orbiting a New Sun
  18. Across the Universe: Seeing the Light
  19. Across the Universe: DIY Religion
  20. Across the Universe: Truth, Beauty, and a Good Lawyer
  21. Across the Universe: Techie Dreams
  22. Across the Universe: By Paper, to the Stars
  23. Across the Universe: Transit of Venus
  24. Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
  25. Across the Universe: Deep Impact
  26. Across the Universe: New Worlds
  27. Across the Universe: Tom Swift and his Helium Pycnometer
  28. Across the Universe: Tradition… and Pluto
  29. Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
  30. Across the Universe: Key to the Sea and Sky
  31. Across the Universe: Off The Beach
  32. Across the Universe: All of the Above
  33. From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
  34. Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
  35. Across the Universe: Help My Unbelief
  36. Across the Universe: Stories of Another World
  37. Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
  38. Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
  39. Across the Universe: New Heavens, New Earth
  40. Across the Universe: Souvenirs from Space
  41. Across the Universe: For the love of the stars…
  42. Across the Universe: Spicy planet stories
  43. Across the Universe: Asking the right questions
  44. Across the Universe: Everything You Know Is Wrong
  45. Across the Universe: Errata
  46. Across the Universe: Clouds of Unknowing
  47. Across the Universe: Being Asked the Right Questions
  48. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  49. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  50. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  51. Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
  52. Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
  53. Across the Universe: Relish the Red Planet
  54. Across the Universe: Obedience
  55. Across the Universe: Traveling Light
  56. Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
  57. Across the Universe: Europa
  58. Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
  59. Across the Universe: Forbidden Transitions
  60. Across the Universe: Genre and Truth
  61. Across the Universe: False Economies
  62. Across the Universe: Reflections on a Mirror
  63. Across the Universe: Japan
  64. From the Tablet: Why is Easter So Early This Year?
  65. Across the Universe: Oops!
  66. Across the Universe: Dramatic Science
  67. Across the Universe: Me and My Shadows
  68. Across the Universe: Touch the Sky
  69. Across the Universe: The Eye of the Lynx
  70. Across the Universe: Treasure from Heaven
  71. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  72. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  73. Across the Universe: Awareness
  74. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  75. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  76. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  77. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  78. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  79. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  80. Across the Universe: Changelings
  81. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  82. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  83. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  84. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  85. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  86. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  87. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  88. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  89. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  90. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  91. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  92. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  93. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  94. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  95. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  96. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  97. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  98. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  99. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  100. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  101. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  102. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  103. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  104. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  105. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  106. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  107. Across the Universe: View from afar
  108. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  109. Across the Universe: Global warning
  110. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  111. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  112. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  113. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
  114. Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
  115. Across the Universe: Rocket Science
  116. Across the Universe: Maybe
  117. Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
  118. Across the Universe: Edge of the World
  119. Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
  120. Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
  121. Across the Universe: Song of Praise
  122. Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
  123. Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
  124. Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
  125. Across the Universe: Fast changes

View the entire series

Faith and Science: One Stop Shopping!
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We're pleased to announce the latest outreach project of the Vatican Observatory Foundation: A Faith and Science resource site (click here!)

Science and religion meet! It was at my Jesuit high school, U of Detroit High, where I first saw Erlenmeyer flasks being used as cruets at the Mass. These are at the Jesuit community chapel at Boston College.

The idea is to have a place where Catholic educators – and educated Catholics – can go to find links to materials all over the web dealing with a variety of topics on the broad issue of Faith and Science.

This web site is not complete, of course, and probably never will be... new material is being posted (and being brought to our attention) all the time. In fact, when you go to the site you'll notice a certain bias towards material that our own members of the Vatican Observatory, past and present, have prepared and posted on-line.

Rather than describing it further, I encourage you to go explore the site itself. And if you have comments or suggestions, please let us know.

However, there's one point I do want to make here. Sites like these don't happen for free. We've paid several folks (not nearly what they're worth) to help design and assemble the coding for the site, and then to find the materials to include, and then to write up the descriptions so that users can get an idea of the individual resources contain – their content, academic level, size, and format – before jumping into them.

The initial funding for all this work has come from a very generous grant from the Templeton foundation. But that funding is only seed money to get us started.

While we insist on making the site open to the public, just like this Catholic Astronomer blog is open for anyone to read, we need donations from the folks like you to keep it running. How can you help out?

We have a place here where you can send us one-time donations. But in fact the best thing, from our point of view, would be if you joined this Catholic Astronomer site as a monthly donor... $10 a month as one of our Pleiades cluster (or more, if you've got the resources) makes all the difference. At the moment, our membership is just enough to cover the costs of this blog. We need more members, to cover the cost of the Faith and Astronomy web site as well.

If you like what we're doing... can you consider joining us in our work? And please, do spread the word. (Say a prayer for us as well...)

 

Hymns of Faith and Science
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A few years ago, I gave an astronomy-themed retreat in the UK and among those attending was Trevor Thorn, who among other things writes hymns. He shared a few of his astronomy-themed hymns with me. Now, I'll be honest, I find most such mash-ups tend to be pretty cringe-worthy. So I was all the more surprised to read his; they were very good... as you can see, on his blog site, The Cross and the Cosmos. (Which also includes a lot of other faith/astronomy themed art.)

One particular bunch were written with kids in mind, and they're quite fun. He's "test-run" some of his songs with local church schools in Cambridge. Here's a short video about that effort:

Across the Universe: Song of Praise
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This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2016

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

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

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

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

Hotel Giulietta, in Senegalia, Italy

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

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

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

Enrico Medi, from the Italian Wikipedia site

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

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

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

Also in Across the Universe

  1. Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
  2. Across the Universe: Fools from the East
  3. Across the Universe: Hunches
  4. Across the Universe: Desert or a dessert?
  5. Across the Universe: Stardust messages
  6. Across the Universe: The best way to travel
  7. Across the Universe: Original Proof
  8. Across the Universe: Pearls among Swine
  9. Across the Universe: One Fix Leads to Another
  10. Across the Universe: Limits to Understanding
  11. Across the Universe: The Glory of a Giant
  12. Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
  13. Across the Universe: Science as Story
  14. Across the Universe: Recognition
  15. Across the Universe: Tending Towards Paganism
  16. Across the Universe: The Ethics of Extraterrestrials
  17. Across the Universe: Orbiting a New Sun
  18. Across the Universe: Seeing the Light
  19. Across the Universe: DIY Religion
  20. Across the Universe: Truth, Beauty, and a Good Lawyer
  21. Across the Universe: Techie Dreams
  22. Across the Universe: By Paper, to the Stars
  23. Across the Universe: Transit of Venus
  24. Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
  25. Across the Universe: Deep Impact
  26. Across the Universe: New Worlds
  27. Across the Universe: Tom Swift and his Helium Pycnometer
  28. Across the Universe: Tradition… and Pluto
  29. Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
  30. Across the Universe: Key to the Sea and Sky
  31. Across the Universe: Off The Beach
  32. Across the Universe: All of the Above
  33. From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
  34. Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
  35. Across the Universe: Help My Unbelief
  36. Across the Universe: Stories of Another World
  37. Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
  38. Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
  39. Across the Universe: New Heavens, New Earth
  40. Across the Universe: Souvenirs from Space
  41. Across the Universe: For the love of the stars…
  42. Across the Universe: Spicy planet stories
  43. Across the Universe: Asking the right questions
  44. Across the Universe: Everything You Know Is Wrong
  45. Across the Universe: Errata
  46. Across the Universe: Clouds of Unknowing
  47. Across the Universe: Being Asked the Right Questions
  48. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  49. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  50. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  51. Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
  52. Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
  53. Across the Universe: Relish the Red Planet
  54. Across the Universe: Obedience
  55. Across the Universe: Traveling Light
  56. Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
  57. Across the Universe: Europa
  58. Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
  59. Across the Universe: Forbidden Transitions
  60. Across the Universe: Genre and Truth
  61. Across the Universe: False Economies
  62. Across the Universe: Reflections on a Mirror
  63. Across the Universe: Japan
  64. From the Tablet: Why is Easter So Early This Year?
  65. Across the Universe: Oops!
  66. Across the Universe: Dramatic Science
  67. Across the Universe: Me and My Shadows
  68. Across the Universe: Touch the Sky
  69. Across the Universe: The Eye of the Lynx
  70. Across the Universe: Treasure from Heaven
  71. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  72. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  73. Across the Universe: Awareness
  74. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  75. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  76. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  77. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  78. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  79. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  80. Across the Universe: Changelings
  81. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  82. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  83. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  84. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  85. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  86. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  87. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  88. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  89. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  90. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  91. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  92. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  93. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  94. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  95. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  96. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  97. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  98. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  99. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  100. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  101. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  102. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  103. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  104. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  105. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  106. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  107. Across the Universe: View from afar
  108. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  109. Across the Universe: Global warning
  110. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  111. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  112. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  113. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
  114. Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
  115. Across the Universe: Rocket Science
  116. Across the Universe: Maybe
  117. Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
  118. Across the Universe: Edge of the World
  119. Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
  120. Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
  121. Across the Universe: Song of Praise
  122. Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
  123. Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
  124. Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
  125. Across the Universe: Fast changes

View the entire series

Across the Universe: Shapes of Things
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This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2015

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

My dissertation advisor, Randy Jokipii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe he did teach me life lessons, after all.

Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
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This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also in Across the Universe

  1. Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
  2. Across the Universe: Fools from the East
  3. Across the Universe: Hunches
  4. Across the Universe: Desert or a dessert?
  5. Across the Universe: Stardust messages
  6. Across the Universe: The best way to travel
  7. Across the Universe: Original Proof
  8. Across the Universe: Pearls among Swine
  9. Across the Universe: One Fix Leads to Another
  10. Across the Universe: Limits to Understanding
  11. Across the Universe: The Glory of a Giant
  12. Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
  13. Across the Universe: Science as Story
  14. Across the Universe: Recognition
  15. Across the Universe: Tending Towards Paganism
  16. Across the Universe: The Ethics of Extraterrestrials
  17. Across the Universe: Orbiting a New Sun
  18. Across the Universe: Seeing the Light
  19. Across the Universe: DIY Religion
  20. Across the Universe: Truth, Beauty, and a Good Lawyer
  21. Across the Universe: Techie Dreams
  22. Across the Universe: By Paper, to the Stars
  23. Across the Universe: Transit of Venus
  24. Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
  25. Across the Universe: Deep Impact
  26. Across the Universe: New Worlds
  27. Across the Universe: Tom Swift and his Helium Pycnometer
  28. Across the Universe: Tradition… and Pluto
  29. Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
  30. Across the Universe: Key to the Sea and Sky
  31. Across the Universe: Off The Beach
  32. Across the Universe: All of the Above
  33. From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
  34. Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
  35. Across the Universe: Help My Unbelief
  36. Across the Universe: Stories of Another World
  37. Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
  38. Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
  39. Across the Universe: New Heavens, New Earth
  40. Across the Universe: Souvenirs from Space
  41. Across the Universe: For the love of the stars…
  42. Across the Universe: Spicy planet stories
  43. Across the Universe: Asking the right questions
  44. Across the Universe: Everything You Know Is Wrong
  45. Across the Universe: Errata
  46. Across the Universe: Clouds of Unknowing
  47. Across the Universe: Being Asked the Right Questions
  48. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  49. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  50. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  51. Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
  52. Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
  53. Across the Universe: Relish the Red Planet
  54. Across the Universe: Obedience
  55. Across the Universe: Traveling Light
  56. Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
  57. Across the Universe: Europa
  58. Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
  59. Across the Universe: Forbidden Transitions
  60. Across the Universe: Genre and Truth
  61. Across the Universe: False Economies
  62. Across the Universe: Reflections on a Mirror
  63. Across the Universe: Japan
  64. From the Tablet: Why is Easter So Early This Year?
  65. Across the Universe: Oops!
  66. Across the Universe: Dramatic Science
  67. Across the Universe: Me and My Shadows
  68. Across the Universe: Touch the Sky
  69. Across the Universe: The Eye of the Lynx
  70. Across the Universe: Treasure from Heaven
  71. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  72. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  73. Across the Universe: Awareness
  74. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  75. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  76. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  77. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  78. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  79. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  80. Across the Universe: Changelings
  81. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  82. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  83. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  84. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  85. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  86. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  87. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  88. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  89. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  90. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  91. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  92. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  93. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  94. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  95. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  96. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  97. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  98. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  99. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  100. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  101. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  102. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  103. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  104. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  105. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  106. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  107. Across the Universe: View from afar
  108. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  109. Across the Universe: Global warning
  110. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  111. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  112. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  113. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
  114. Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
  115. Across the Universe: Rocket Science
  116. Across the Universe: Maybe
  117. Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
  118. Across the Universe: Edge of the World
  119. Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
  120. Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
  121. Across the Universe: Song of Praise
  122. Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
  123. Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
  124. Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
  125. Across the Universe: Fast changes

View the entire series

Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
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This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2013

Cygnus OB-2 courtesy of the Chandra X-ray Observatory Site at Harvard. In this image, X-rays from Chandra (blue) have been combined with infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (red) and optical data from the Isaac Newton Telescope (orange).

Cygnus OB2 is an association of perhaps a thousand young, massive stars, some of them a hundred times more massive than the Sun and a million times brighter, immersed in a much larger molecular cloud known as Cygnus X. Because it is so close to us (“only” 4700 light years away) we can study Cygnus OB2 in detail, comparing model predictions about the formation of such massive stars with actual observations. These studies might help us understand how such stars are born not only in our galaxy but also in more distant galaxies.

But that mass of data can overwhelm our understanding. It’s impossible for any one astronomer to keep track of all the latest developments. And so in May, 2013, we held a workshop at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo where two dozen scientists could compare notes about this star formation region. “This is a meeting of the blind men talking about the elephant,” one participant mused. Every scientist had a different set of data, and a different take on how the cluster of stars was put together and what makes it tick. That variety, of course, is what makes small workshops like this so important.

By an odd coincidence, earlier that week I had come across a photograph from a similar astronomy workshop, held at the Vatican in 1957. The participants 55 years ago are now names that fill our astronomy books: Lemaitre and Hoyle respectively invented, and named, the Big Bang; the Oort cloud is where comets reside; the Schwarzschild radius defines a black hole; the Spitzer Space Telescope is one of the instruments observing Cygnus OB2.

The attendees of the 1957 Vatican conference on Stellar Populations. See below.

Some differences between the workshops were notable. None of the 1957 astronomers were women, unlike a third of this year’s current meeting, including one of its organizers. Nearly all the 1957 participants had northern European names; the current workshop was co-organized by a Spaniard living in Chile and included participants from eastern Europe, which would have been impossible for a meeting held at the Vatican during the Cold War.

But other aspects remained the same. In 1957, the participants compared notes about the relative populations of stars in order to get at much bigger questions ranging from how the chemical elements in those different stars were formed, to the bigger picture of how the universe itself was made. By bringing together experts in diverse fields to sit and talk, each side learned important things going on in places outside their normal field of view, and new collaborations emerged. In the same way, one participant here commented, “Every paper I have ever published started out as a conversation in a setting like this.”

Attendees of the 2013 conference, courtesy of Fernando Comeron (second from left).

Will someone fifty years from now look at our group photo with the same sense of awe? Probably not. The field of astronomy has grown large enough now that it is no longer dominated by a few big names. (Roman paparazzi have a similar problem: with so many celebrities today they can’t keep track of who’s worth photographing anymore.) But that does not dilute the genius or the accomplishment of the modern participants… any more than naming 800 martyrs as saints (as Pope Francis did that same month) somehow dilutes their sacrifice or accomplishment. As saints and scientists we are the product of those who have come before us, standing on their shoulders; and our duty is to lift those who will follow.

Appropriately, the attendees at our workshop this month ranged from recent PhDs to Per Olof Lindblad, now 85 years old. I noticed him examining the photograph of the 1957 meeting. “I would have been 30 years old then,” he mused. And then he pointed to a man in the front row of that photograph. “That was my father.”

Olof Lindblad, pointing out the signature of his father in our visitors' book

 

Added, for the fun of it... so, who were the folks attending that 1957 meeting? Here's the cheat sheet:

a. Daniel O'Connell (1896 - 1982) director of the Vatican Observatory 1952 - 1970

b. Giuseppi Armellini (1887 - 1958) Studied planetary formation, head of Campidoglio/Monte Mario observatory

c. Walter Baade: (1893 - 1960) By observing stars in the Andromeda Galaxy he invented our present Population I and II system; his observations of Cepheid variables there recalibrated our understanding of the size of the universe

d. Adriaan Blaauw (1914 - 2010) Founder and first director of European Southern Observatory; studied high velocity stars

e. Hermann Brück (1905 - 2000) Refounder of Dunksink Observatory, Ireland; Astronomer Royal for Scotland 1957 - 1975. (He fled Nazi Germany to work at the Vatican Observatory in 1936)

f. Daniel Chalonge (1895 - 1977) A founder of the Institut d'astrophysique de Paris, studied stellar photometry, inventor of the Chalonge microphotometer

g. William Fowler: (1911 - 1995) Won the Nobel prize in Physics in 1983 for his theories of how elements are made by nuclear reactions inside stars

h. Otto Heckmann (1901 - 1983) First director of the European Southern Observatory; expert in cosmology

i. George Herbig: (1920 - 2013) Discoverer of "Herbig-Haro" objects, a particular type of young star

j. Fred Hoyle: (1915 - 2001) Worked with Fowler on theories of how elements are formed in stars; invented the term “Big Bang”

l. Georges Lemaître: (1894 - 1966) In 1928, Fr. Lemaître proposed the cosmological theory that has come to be known as the “Big Bang”

m. Bertil Lindblad: (1895 - 1965) Explained certain orbital resonances (“Lindblad resonances”) and details of the rotation of galaxies; such work has ultimately led to the detection of “dark matter”

n. William Morgan (1906 - 1994) Developed stellar classification system, proved the existence of spiral arms in the Milky Way

o. Jason Nassau (1893 - 1965) Expert in galactic structure.

p. Jan Oort (1900 - 1992) Determined the existence of a distant cloud of comets now called the Oort Cloud

q. Ed Salpeter: (1924 - 2008) Applied nuclear theory to the formation of elements in stars; described how black holes provide the energy of active galactic nuclei

r. Allan Sandage (1926 - 2010) First accurate measurement of Hubble Constant, discoverer of quasars

s. Martin Schwarzschild: (1912 - 1997) The Scharzschild radius derived by him indicates the “event horizon” of a Black Hole

t. Lyman Spitzer: (1914 - 1997) An expert on interstellar dust, he first proposed telescopes in space; the Spitzer Space Telescope is named for him

u. Bengt Strömgren: (1908 - 1987) Determined relative abundances of helium and other elements in stars; devised the Strömgren system of photometric filters

v. A. David Thackeray (1910 - 1978) Estimated size and age of universe via variables in Magellanic Clouds; discovered Thackeray's Globules (stellar formation region)

w. Patrick Treanor (1920 - 1978) Director of the Vatican Observatory, 1970-1978

x. Pietro Salviucci (1936 - 1973) Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

z. V. Préobrajenski (?? - ??) Secretary of the Pontifical Academy

(edited to include the 2013 photo, update the date of Dr. Herbig's death, various formatting corrections)

Also in Across the Universe

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  2. Across the Universe: Fools from the East
  3. Across the Universe: Hunches
  4. Across the Universe: Desert or a dessert?
  5. Across the Universe: Stardust messages
  6. Across the Universe: The best way to travel
  7. Across the Universe: Original Proof
  8. Across the Universe: Pearls among Swine
  9. Across the Universe: One Fix Leads to Another
  10. Across the Universe: Limits to Understanding
  11. Across the Universe: The Glory of a Giant
  12. Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
  13. Across the Universe: Science as Story
  14. Across the Universe: Recognition
  15. Across the Universe: Tending Towards Paganism
  16. Across the Universe: The Ethics of Extraterrestrials
  17. Across the Universe: Orbiting a New Sun
  18. Across the Universe: Seeing the Light
  19. Across the Universe: DIY Religion
  20. Across the Universe: Truth, Beauty, and a Good Lawyer
  21. Across the Universe: Techie Dreams
  22. Across the Universe: By Paper, to the Stars
  23. Across the Universe: Transit of Venus
  24. Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
  25. Across the Universe: Deep Impact
  26. Across the Universe: New Worlds
  27. Across the Universe: Tom Swift and his Helium Pycnometer
  28. Across the Universe: Tradition… and Pluto
  29. Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
  30. Across the Universe: Key to the Sea and Sky
  31. Across the Universe: Off The Beach
  32. Across the Universe: All of the Above
  33. From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
  34. Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
  35. Across the Universe: Help My Unbelief
  36. Across the Universe: Stories of Another World
  37. Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
  38. Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
  39. Across the Universe: New Heavens, New Earth
  40. Across the Universe: Souvenirs from Space
  41. Across the Universe: For the love of the stars…
  42. Across the Universe: Spicy planet stories
  43. Across the Universe: Asking the right questions
  44. Across the Universe: Everything You Know Is Wrong
  45. Across the Universe: Errata
  46. Across the Universe: Clouds of Unknowing
  47. Across the Universe: Being Asked the Right Questions
  48. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  49. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  50. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  51. Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
  52. Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
  53. Across the Universe: Relish the Red Planet
  54. Across the Universe: Obedience
  55. Across the Universe: Traveling Light
  56. Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
  57. Across the Universe: Europa
  58. Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
  59. Across the Universe: Forbidden Transitions
  60. Across the Universe: Genre and Truth
  61. Across the Universe: False Economies
  62. Across the Universe: Reflections on a Mirror
  63. Across the Universe: Japan
  64. From the Tablet: Why is Easter So Early This Year?
  65. Across the Universe: Oops!
  66. Across the Universe: Dramatic Science
  67. Across the Universe: Me and My Shadows
  68. Across the Universe: Touch the Sky
  69. Across the Universe: The Eye of the Lynx
  70. Across the Universe: Treasure from Heaven
  71. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  72. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  73. Across the Universe: Awareness
  74. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  75. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  76. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  77. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  78. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  79. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  80. Across the Universe: Changelings
  81. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  82. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  83. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  84. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  85. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  86. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  87. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  88. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  89. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  90. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  91. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  92. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  93. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  94. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  95. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  96. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  97. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  98. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  99. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  100. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  101. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  102. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  103. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  104. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  105. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  106. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  107. Across the Universe: View from afar
  108. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  109. Across the Universe: Global warning
  110. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  111. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  112. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  113. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
  114. Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
  115. Across the Universe: Rocket Science
  116. Across the Universe: Maybe
  117. Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
  118. Across the Universe: Edge of the World
  119. Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
  120. Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
  121. Across the Universe: Song of Praise
  122. Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
  123. Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
  124. Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
  125. Across the Universe: Fast changes

View the entire series

Across the Universe: Edge of the World
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This column first ran in The Tablet in April 2015

The guys who made our ALMA trip possible, Fernando Comeron (ESO representative to Chile) and Pierre Cox, ALMA director

At the edge of the world, the top of the world, is a window of our world into the rest of the universe: the telescopes of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. Nearby are other large observatories at Cerro Tololo, Las Campanas, and the Alma radio array at Chajnantor. These telescopes have shown how the expansion of our universe is accelerating; they’ve explored hundreds of planets around other stars; they’ve traced the motions of stars orbiting a super-massive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

I am visiting [in 2015] here with a half-dozen patrons who support such telescopes (including the Vatican’s own telescope in Arizona). Along with our host, Dr. Fernando Cameron, our small group includes a businessman who sits on the boards of universities; a retired schoolteacher; a NASA engineer… eclectic in background, but joined by a fascination of the bigger universe, and the instruments we’ve built on this remote desert mountain. Last night, after touring the telescopes at La Silla, we did our own small observations with binoculars and a nice amateur telescope to watch the clusters and nebulae only visible from this hemisphere of the Earth.

Eso is more than 50 years old, and some of the original telescopes now look almost quaint in their configuration — massive structures to support relatively small mirrors by today’s standards. The naming of these telescopes is also a lesson in humility; the “New Technology Telescope” is nearly 20 years old. But our tour will continue to even more remote sites in the Atacama desert, with new telescopes under construction whose names will some day also sound quaint: the “European Extremely Large Telescope” is already more than just European, and will doubtless be dwarfed by even larger instruments.

Fr. Picetti, from an article in the Chilean magazine Tell http://www.tell.cl/magazine/6134/laserena/agosto/2012/entrevistas/dios-y-el-universo.html

How do the locals feel about the presence of these expensive European toys in their back garden? Without a doubt, it’s a point of local pride. While we northerners have paid for them, it’s the locals who have built them and who maintain them; indeed, as part of the agreement to put them here, local astronomers are guaranteed a significant amount of time to use them. As a result, the astronomy programs in Chilean universities are magnets for talent from around the world.

Father Juan Bautista Picetti, a Basilian father from Italy, is a perfect example of that local connection. He arrived in Chile in 1955 and since then has served as a priest while teaching science, especially astronomy, in this part of the country. He set up a public observatory outside La Serena, the nearest city to these telescopes, that has inspired thousands of local students, including – but not limited to – many who have gone on to work at these observatories. This past year, an annual Picetti Prize was established by the Cerro Tololo observatory for promotion of astronomy to the public in this part of Chile. The winner gets a telescope to use at their school.

Astronomy is a science that is also an art. It won’t make you rich or powerful in the eyes of the world; it won’t fill your belly, but it feeds your soul – which, after all, requires more than bread. And souls, even in such a remote part of the earth as northern Chile, both need feeding and are capable of feeding the rest of us.

I first heard of Fr. Picetti from a student of his, our local guild, while visiting a small museum in the small town of Vicuña. It’s the birthplace of a certain Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, a poet and educator, who once taught a young Pablo Neruda. Writing under the name of Gabriela Mistral, she herself won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Windows to the universe can be found in surprising locations.

Observant readers may recall that I wrote four posts about our trip, published here in 2015...and Katie Steinke published a video about it, here!

Also in Across the Universe

  1. Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
  2. Across the Universe: Fools from the East
  3. Across the Universe: Hunches
  4. Across the Universe: Desert or a dessert?
  5. Across the Universe: Stardust messages
  6. Across the Universe: The best way to travel
  7. Across the Universe: Original Proof
  8. Across the Universe: Pearls among Swine
  9. Across the Universe: One Fix Leads to Another
  10. Across the Universe: Limits to Understanding
  11. Across the Universe: The Glory of a Giant
  12. Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
  13. Across the Universe: Science as Story
  14. Across the Universe: Recognition
  15. Across the Universe: Tending Towards Paganism
  16. Across the Universe: The Ethics of Extraterrestrials
  17. Across the Universe: Orbiting a New Sun
  18. Across the Universe: Seeing the Light
  19. Across the Universe: DIY Religion
  20. Across the Universe: Truth, Beauty, and a Good Lawyer
  21. Across the Universe: Techie Dreams
  22. Across the Universe: By Paper, to the Stars
  23. Across the Universe: Transit of Venus
  24. Across the Universe: Ordinary Time
  25. Across the Universe: Deep Impact
  26. Across the Universe: New Worlds
  27. Across the Universe: Tom Swift and his Helium Pycnometer
  28. Across the Universe: Tradition… and Pluto
  29. Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
  30. Across the Universe: Key to the Sea and Sky
  31. Across the Universe: Off The Beach
  32. Across the Universe: All of the Above
  33. From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
  34. Across the Universe: Heavenly peace?
  35. Across the Universe: Help My Unbelief
  36. Across the Universe: Stories of Another World
  37. Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
  38. Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
  39. Across the Universe: New Heavens, New Earth
  40. Across the Universe: Souvenirs from Space
  41. Across the Universe: For the love of the stars…
  42. Across the Universe: Spicy planet stories
  43. Across the Universe: Asking the right questions
  44. Across the Universe: Everything You Know Is Wrong
  45. Across the Universe: Errata
  46. Across the Universe: Clouds of Unknowing
  47. Across the Universe: Being Asked the Right Questions
  48. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  49. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  50. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  51. Across the Universe: When Reason Itself Becomes Flesh
  52. Across the Universe: Spinning our Hopes
  53. Across the Universe: Relish the Red Planet
  54. Across the Universe: Obedience
  55. Across the Universe: Traveling Light
  56. Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
  57. Across the Universe: Europa
  58. Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
  59. Across the Universe: Forbidden Transitions
  60. Across the Universe: Genre and Truth
  61. Across the Universe: False Economies
  62. Across the Universe: Reflections on a Mirror
  63. Across the Universe: Japan
  64. From the Tablet: Why is Easter So Early This Year?
  65. Across the Universe: Oops!
  66. Across the Universe: Dramatic Science
  67. Across the Universe: Me and My Shadows
  68. Across the Universe: Touch the Sky
  69. Across the Universe: The Eye of the Lynx
  70. Across the Universe: Treasure from Heaven
  71. Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
  72. Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
  73. Across the Universe: Awareness
  74. Across the Universe: Friends in high places
  75. Across the Universe: A Moving Experience
  76. Across the Universe: Grain of truth
  77. Across the Universe: Clerical Work
  78. Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
  79. Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
  80. Across the Universe: Changelings
  81. Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
  82. Across the Universe: Dawn of My Belief
  83. Across the Universe: Martian Sunrise
  84. Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
  85. Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
  86. Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
  87. Across the Universe: Jabberwocky and the Curious Cat
  88. Across the Universe: Waiting for the Call
  89. From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
  90. Across the Universe: Taking the Heat
  91. Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
  92. Across the Universe: A Damp Kaboom
  93. Across the Universe: Featureless Features
  94. Across the Universe: Confronting Fear and Terror
  95. Across the Universe: Eye Candy
  96. Across the Universe: The New Paganism
  97. Across the Universe: Immigrant Stars
  98. Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
  99. Across the Universe: Christmas Presence
  100. Across the Universe: When reason itself becomes flesh
  101. Across the Universe: Recognizing the Star
  102. Across the Universe: Awaiting the stars
  103. Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
  104. Across the Universe: A Piece of the Action
  105. Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
  106. Across the Universe: Touched by Heaven
  107. Across the Universe: View from afar
  108. Across the Universe: What good is God?
  109. Across the Universe: Global warning
  110. From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
  111. Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
  112. Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
  113. Across the Universe: Happy Birthday to Us
  114. Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
  115. Across the Universe: Rocket Science
  116. Across the Universe: Maybe
  117. Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
  118. Across the Universe: Edge of the World
  119. Across the Universe: A Thousand Stars are Born
  120. Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
  121. Across the Universe: Song of Praise
  122. Across the Universe: Jesuit Science
  123. Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
  124. Across the Universe: Ephemeral science
  125. Across the Universe: Fast changes

View the entire series