Posts by Brother Guy Consolmagno

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

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.)

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.)

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

On Operas and Stars, Aliens and Refugees
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I was recently in correspondence with Carl Pennypacker at Berkeley. To quote Wikipedia: "Dr. Pennypacker has spent much of his career as a research astrophysicist, receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1978. His principal research was the studying of supernovae and the building of techniques for their automated discovery. With Rich Muller, he co-founded the Berkeley Supernova Search, which later became the Supernova Cosmology Project. He shared the 2007 Gruber Prize in Cosmology and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for the Supernova Cosmology Project's discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating."

All true. But in addition to that, he has a deep interest in science outreach... and music. When he shared with me a video he'd been involved with (see below) I asked if I could post it here, and if he would give me a few words of introduction. He graciously agreed to both. He writes (edited from a couple of emails):

I was part of "The Global Skylight" opera, as part of the IAU's Year of Light in 2015. It occurred to me recently that the theme of the origin of humanity's matter in the stars was a powerful principle that might help people take a bit better care of each other. So I re-purposed the finale of this Opera (I helped write the music and the words) to be "The Refugee Song and Dance." It is on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWXAvdmRMcM

The Global Skylight Opera was the first in an on-going yearly series of Global Science Operas, originating in Stord, Norway.  Last November's was on the Higgs Boson.  Oded Ben-Horin is our maestro and inventor of this concept.   They are described here: http://globalscienceopera.com/and a video trailer of the Skylight Opera is here in the lower left: http://globalscienceopera.com/resources-media/#videos

Per my musicality: I am really not a musician, but I seem to have tunes running around my under-worked brain all the time.  If I hear a noise from the environment, like a bird singing or creek flowing, my mind has this inexplicable desire to complete the notes nature has given us.  Up to now, some of my collaborative work that went further was a light opera Ms. Judy Goldhaber and I did on Stephen Hawking.  This was performed at San Francisco City College. (If you ever want to hear some of these songs, I have six in good digital form I could relay to you.)  I "compose" by using a music composition program, and although my pitch is far from perfect, I try to write in the music the tunes I hear in my mind. It is frustrating at times for me, because of my lack of any formal musical training -- it takes me some time to get the notes just the way I hear them, and I find my precision is around a 1/32 note.

Dr. Simon Nathan, a friend and Ph.D. physicist, did the hard work of the arrangement. 

Across the Universe: Faith and Expectations
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This column first ran in The Tablet in March 2013, soon after the election of Pope Francis

How do I feel about a Pope who is not only a fellow Jesuit, but one who’s studied science (in his case, chemistry) as well? To be honest, I am terrified. For the past twenty years I have lived off the expectations that others have of Jesuits and scientists; now I am going to have to deal with someone who can see past the mystique. Familiarity breeds a certain discomfort. I can only imagine what it’s like for our Observatory’s director, Fr. Funes, who is himself not only a Jesuit and scientist but also from Argentina. [In fact, as it later came out, when José first began the process of entering the Jesuits as a young man, one of the Argentinian Jesuits who interviewed him was a certain Father Bergoglio...]

At our audience in September2015 celebrating 80 years in Castel Gandolfo, Pope Francis reminisced about when he first met emeritus director José Funes.

Pope Francis’ chemistry background has not gone unnoticed in the scientific world. A blog post about it at Scientific American’s website trots out all the typical complaints we’ve come to expect about the Church and science: the burning of Bruno for his heliocentrism (a complete misreading of that case, invented by the anticlerical 19th-century Italian government); unfounded speculations that the new Pope might somehow reject evolution; a criticism of the Church’s stance on abortion and birth control as being “unscientific.” (One might have hoped that Scientific American could see the difference between what science tells us and how it is used; one can be opposed to nuclear weapons without denying nuclear physics.) Worse, in the midst of this flood of ignorance, the blogger quotes my own work with approval!

More than just one blogger’s hasty ruminations, this reaction sadly reflects our culture’s expectations of how religion and science interact. People assume a tension between faith and science because they mistake both of them as epistemological systems. They think that we knows some facts through science, other facts through faith, and so we ought to expect that they will conflict sometimes.

It’s easy to see how this mistake arises. Most people learn science only through introductory classes or newspaper articles that emphasize “discoveries”. Facts are easy to report, easy to test with multiple-choice exams. But science is not a big book of facts; it’s a conversation among scientists about how those facts can be best understood. And faith is not about blinding ourselves to the facts or accepting facts on some religious authority without evidence. Rather, it is all about proceeding with an expectation of success even when we lack all the facts. In that sense, every scientist is a person of faith. I have to believe, without certainty, that the experiment I propose to work on for the next two years will actually give me something useful that can contribute to the conversation.

That means, of course, that I perform the experiment with an expectation of what kind of results I will get. Without that expectation, I wouldn’t be able to recognize the results when I got them. But if I knew for sure that the experiment would work, or if I could be certain what its results would be, I wouldn’t have to do the work. As the spiritual writer Anne Lamott reminds us, certainty is the opposite of faith.

Furthermore, I have to be open to the possibility that my expectations were wrong. When that happens, though, it doesn’t alter my faith in science; it merely tempers my faith in my own abilities. Indeed, the best scientists live for the day when their expectations are proved wrong. That’s precisely when we learn something new.

And so now we are running the experiment of a South American Jesuit scientist as Pope. We all come to this papacy with expectations, just as Pope Francis himself has his own expectations. The punditry of predictions about his papacy, now filling our magazines and blogs, is not a bad thing. But we shouldn’t lose faith if things don’t turn out the way we expected.

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

The Beer and the Telescope
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During a bout of insomnia Thursday morning, around 2 am, my phone buzzed with an incoming email from the editor of L'Osservatore Romano asking if I could get them an article about the TRAPPIST-1 planets. By noon. Italian time. So I stayed up another hour -- I wasn't getting any sleep anyway -- and shipped one off to them by 3 am Tucson time. It ran in the Feb 23 edition... click here for a link. Of course, they translated it into Italian. Here is the original English text that I sent them... they edited it slightly.

I didn't get a chance to copy the Italian version before it went offline, but thankfully my Twitter friend @fabriziolab did!

Last year, a team of astronomers led by Michaël Gillon of the STAR Institute at the University of Liège in Belgium announced the discovery of three planets around a star observed by one of their telescopes, TRAPPIST South. This week they have published new results in the scientific journal Nature that expands the number of planets in this system to seven. Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, director of the Vatican Observatory, reflects on the significance of this discovery.

“Do you believe in life elsewhere in the Universe?” It’s a question that astronomers are asked all the time. It is the right question: life in the universe is, so far, a question of belief. We have no data that says such life exists. But our faith that life is there is strong enough that we’re willing to make the effort to search for it.

With the announcement yesterday of the discovery of seven planets comparable to Earth orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1,our faith in such searches has gotten just a little bit stronger. At least three of them might be at the right temperature to support liquid water and thus the possibility of life as we know it.

Their ongoing search for planets around small, relatively cool stars in our nearby galactic neighborhood uses a pair of robotic telescopes called “TRAPPIST”; the acronym stand for the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope. TRAPPIST South, which made the observations reported here, is located in the Chilean desert at an observatory in La Silla run by the European Southern Observatory; its counterpart, TRAPPIST North, is located outside of Marrakesh, Morocco. The star TRAPPIST-1 bears the name of the telescope that made it famous.

While most of the excitement in the popular press has centered on the possibility that life could exist on these planets, I see a wider significance to the discovery.

It’s important to note that no one has actually seen these planets. They are too small and too faint to be visible in our current generation of telescopes. But even though we can’t see them, we believe they exist because of the effects we can see that they have on their star. This planetary system happens to be aligned so that as each planet orbits this star, it passes between the star and us; thus the starlight is slightly dimmed as the planet passes. Such an effect, though subtle, can be detected even with a small telescope. The TRAPPIST telescopes use very modest 0.6 meter-wide mirrors to capture the flickering starlight.

Since plenty of other things could cause a star to dim, one has to keep looking to see if the effect repeats itself on a regular basis, each time the planet completes an orbit. That’s one reason why the team decided to concentrate their search on dim, red stars. A planet would have to orbit rather close to such a star in order to be warm enough to support life. Close planets orbit more quickly; thus we have many more chances to see them dim the starlight, and each time we see that dimming we are more confident that the planet (or planets, in this case) is really there. What is more, with seven planets it takes a lot of observations to sort out the rhythm of dimmings into seven regular periods. This discovery did not come in one moment of revelation, but only after years of patient observing.

To further increase our faith that these are really planets, the scientists looked for other effects that such planets would have on the star, such as a subtle shifting of its spectral colors. The small flickers seen in a small telescope led to an international effort involving some of the biggest and most sophisticated instruments at our disposal. Besides the TRAPPIST South telescope, the astronomers relied on data from the NASA’s Spitzer space telescope (which observes in the infrared light that this star mostly radiates) and the European Southern Observatory’s VLT (Very Large Telescope) in Paranal, Chile, whose mirror is more than eight meters wide.

No one astronomer could have made all the observations needed to confirm the result. Science is done by a community of people working together toward a common goal. The European Southern Observatory is itself a consortium of astronomers supported by fifteen European nations, plus Brazil.

Astronomy is not stars or planets, but the activity of the people who look at those stars and planets. It is human curiosity, the desire to feed the human soul, that motivates this work. Human longings to know how we fit into this universe, and whether there are other places or even other beings like ourselves, excites our imaginations and keeps us looking patiently, night after night. That passion fuels the faith of the astronomers, giving them the hope they need that their long nights of observing will bear fruit.

Of course, along with passion and faith, scientists are also moved by other appetites… and a sense of humor. The Belgian astronomers who built the TRAPPIST telescopes admit that they chose the name to honor the famous beers made by Belgian Trappists!

From The Tablet: Precisely Strange
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This article first ran in The Tablet in February, 2016

At the museum of the history of science in Florence, honoring its famous local son Galileo, one can find a marvelous display of a 17th century high technology peculiar to Italy: fine glasswork. Consider the bubble-free glass that Galileo needed for his telescope lenses, the “Florentine flasks” beloved of chemists, the elaborate thermometers of the “Accademia del Cimento.” Italian glass technology made Italy the birthplace of the scientific revolution.  But a century later, as displayed in another room in this museum, mechanical devices produced in Britain and Germany allowed measurements of our universe to a much higher precision. With such instruments, those nations overtook Italy in the world of modern science.

The February 2016 announcement of the observation of gravitational waves demonstrates again how our knowledge of ourselves and our place in the universe is advanced by our ability to measure nature ever more precisely. To detect the tiniest ripple in the space-time continuum, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) experiments in Louisiana and Washington State had to compare the space between two 4 kilometer paths, set at right angles to each other, with a precision of better than one thousandth the radius of a proton.

In March 2016 I was shown around the LIGO facility outside Baton Rouge by my friend Keith (not to be confused with Kip!) Thorne, who works there; here he shows a copy of the plot confirming the first gravitational wave detection

The “Laser” in the LIGO name made this possible. Each arm of the detector is kept at a vacuum, and precisely isolated so that no vibrations will mask the tiny signal. Laser beams are sent down each tunnel, reflected back by superbly figured mirrors, and then compared. Much like how a piano tuner listens to the blend of a piano string’s note against a tuning fork, a slight difference in the lengths of the tunnels will cause the combined beam show an “Interference” pattern (the I in LIGO) that can be used to detect tiny differences in path lengths between the two beams.

But why should the beam lengths vary?

In the late 16th century, Isaac Newton had described how gravity controls the orbit of a moon or the fall of an apple, but he famously refused to even try to guess what gravity actually was; when challenged, he replied, “hypotheses non fingo” (I feign no hypotheses). In 1915, however, Einstein took up that challenge and proposed in his General Relativity theory: gravity was the result of matter warping space and time (which he had united as “spacetime” in his earlier Special Theory of Relativity.)

One classic illustration of his idea imagines that spacetime could be represented in two dimensions as a flat sheet of rubber. Any mass (like a star or a planet) warps spacetime the way a weight placed on the rubber bends it out of shape. An ant walking in a straight line across this rubber sheet which got too close to the warped rubber would find its path curved around and around the weight — or bent into the weight itself.

But a violent change in the position of that weight — caused, perhaps, by two such weights spiraling into each other or colliding — could set up ripples in the rubber sheet which might propagate like waves of Gravitational warping (hence the G in LIGO). In our three dimensional universe, such ripples would manifest themselves as the fabric of spacetime itself slightly shrinking and growing in the direction that the waves travel. Of course, such ripples grow weaker and weaker as they fill more and more space, radiating away from their source.

But collisions between such massive objects — say, two black holes in space — don’t happen every day; at least, not close enough to us that we could expect to see one within the lifetime (or grant cycle) of an observer. Not unless, that is, the observer has such a delicate detector that even events in incredibly distant volumes of space can be observed. The first version of LIGO, set up in 1999, failed to see any confirmed gravitational wave events. But in late 2014 an improved version, ten times more sensitive, came online. During an engineering “shake down” run of the new system in September, 2015, the event announced this past month was captured by the detector in Louisiana.

The first step, of course, was to confirm the possible event by seeing if it was recorded by the second detector in Washington. It was. Furthermore, the Washington detector saw its event a few microseconds later, as would be expected for a wave traveling at the speed of light across the three thousand kilometers’ distance between the two sites.

Meanwhile, theorists had been working for years to calculate just what sorts of events might give rise to gravitational waves, and what the signal of each sort of event might look like. Such calculations were essential in designing the detectors, so that the engineers would have an idea of the precision that they’d have to achieve in order to get reasonable results.

Comparing the predictions with the observations allowed the observers to figure out what sort of event they were seeing. The slowly increasing amplitude of the observed signal, followed by its abrupt ending, matched the predictions for two massive black holes spiraling together and then colliding. The time difference between the detectors told us the direction back to where the waves came from. The magnitude of the signal let them calculate how far away the event was (a bit over a billion light-years distant) and how massive the black holes were (roughly 30 times the mass of the sun, one somewhat bigger than the other).

They even concluded that roughly half the mass of the combined system had be converted from mass into energy (thanks to Einstein’s famous E=mc^2 rule) at the instant of collision. The system briefly emitted as much energy as all the stars of the visible universe combined.

With these details, the experiment did more than merely confirm the existence of gravitational waves; it also served as a way to Observe the black holes that caused the wave. Hence the “Observatory” in LIGO.The massive gravity of black holes prevents light from escaping their surfaces; only gravity waves can be transmitted directly from them to us.

While the physicists themselves are understandably delighted with this new tool to observe the universe, there are also some interesting lessons for the rest of us as well. It has been estimated that over the past 20 years this project has helped support and train a hundred thousand scientists and engineers. Additional detectors will soon come online in Europe and Asia, and eventually in space.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this project (as with the Apollo moon landings) was the political will and organizational skill that orchestrated the necessary talents of so many people, for so long, to a cause that produced neither money nor power nor, for most of them, fame. This was science that no lone genius, no matter how bright, could have accomplished. It shows what promise and power we humans can achieve when we join together for a common cause.

It also confirms, in the strongest way yet, the core of Einstein’s insight. The laws describing the universe must be far more surprising and strange than the simple Enlightenment conception of Isaac Newton.

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

Another blog about the blog
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I just finished up giving a three-day astronomy-themed retreat (well, Friday night to Sunday noon) at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, California. We had about 70 people show up, all of them impressive and enthusiastic and fascinating to meet. I wish I could have spent five hours with each of them. And someone in the group was kind enough to advertise The Catholic Astronomer, so I hope some of you from that retreat have found yourself here.

But that also reminded me that I do need to do some occasional advertising. At the moment, the number of people who are signed up to get free emails when a new article is posted is just under 500; it should be at 5000, I would think. Tell your friends and neighbors about this site! (And your classes.) And don't forget to sign up yourself.

And if you have the wherewithal, joining Sacred Space would let us keep funding this site and the other outreach programs of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. Every bit helps. So... HELP!

A view from the Retreat House web site with clearer skies than we had, alas...

Across the Universe: Global warning
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This column first ran in The Tablet in February 2015

My travels started in Boston, hit by a record number of massive snowstorms this winter; yet another blizzard trapped me inside the convention hotel all weekend. During a lull between storms, I was able to catch a flight to California… where the occasional flooding downpour failed to put an end to a five year drought.

Climate is not the same as weather, but weather certainly reflects climate. And our climate is in serious trouble. It’s not just the anecdotal bad storm; it’s the sustained change in weather patterns – five years of drought, for example – that is finally getting our attention.

One of the most common questions I get asked (just behind baptizing extraterrestrials!) deals with climate change. I give the same answer everywhere; the reaction I get varies wildly with the venue, however. Most of my questioners have already made up their mind that global climate change is either the fault of a conspiracy of evil capitalists, or the delusion of a conspiracy of evil socialists. Sadly, the poisoned politics of our time means that a large number of intelligent people put more effort into denying the problem, or identifying the villain, than in devising possible solutions… much less debating which of those solutions really would be the most effective and the most fair.

Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is at an unprecedented level. That should not be in debate; rather, the debate should be about how best to address the problems that this brings.

A recent op-ed in a Tulsa, Oklahoma newspaper written by an oil company executive argues that since everything the experts told us about saturated fats turns out to be wrong, why should we believe the experts about climate change? I can’t speak to saturated fat research; the flaw in the rest of his logic is staggering, however. (Should I listen to that author because he is an energy expert?) The final blow was when he ended his article by citing me saying that “science is not about certainty.”

It’s precisely because science is never certain that we have to make decisions based on inadequate data… based on faith, as it were; but also based on what seems most likely, given the facts that we do have in hand.

The evidence is beyond question that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has skyrocketed over the last two hundred years. We don’t know for certain what the long term effect of this increase will be, but it’s hard to see any effects that would be good news for humanity. (Yes, the Earth has had more carbon dioxide in its atmosphere in the past; it’s the rate of change that is unsettling… and the fact that the dinosaurs didn’t have large cities located on low-lying territory near the oceans, or rely on structures that are vulnerable to bouts of energetic weather.)

And this is not new research. A friend here in California showed me an article in a popular magazine from 1955 that pointed out the change in average temperatures that had been recorded even by then, with speculation that the increase of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from the industrial revolution might be the culprit. Likewise, since the 1960’s we’ve known how carbon dioxide has altered the temperatures on Venus and Mars. There’s no reason to be surprised that it should happen on Earth as well.

It’s been widely reported that Pope Francis will soon be speaking out about our stewardship of this planet [this column was written about a month before Laudato Si' came out!]. I have no input, insight, or inside scoop as to what he will say, but I can make a pretty shrewd guess. Most of the things that we’re told we ought to be doing – using less energy, developing renewable resources – are things we ought to have been doing in any event, climate change or no.

Perhaps humanity could use a season of fast and abstinence; or at least, we might swallow hard and admit our sins.

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

Across the Universe: What good is God?
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This column first ran in The Tablet in February 2014

“What Good is God?” was the title of the 2014 Bannan Institute Program at Santa Clara University, the Jesuit school in California’s Silicon Valley. This month they invited me ask: why does science need God? I proposed that the answer is found in a different question. Why do we do science?

Can you believe I entrusted my whole future life to that goofy looking Guy on the right? (Yes, that's me, the one with the bad hair and no beard) When I was graduating from MIT in 1974, what did I really expect to get out of being a scientist? Why did I choose that path? 

 

What do we hope to achieve when we decide to be a scientist? What counts as success? Tenure, prizes, citations in the literature… are those the ultimate goal of science? And what motivates us personally to choose to do science, instead of going into banking or selling neckties? Maybe it’s the pleasure in finding patterns and solving problems; doing science is like being paid to solve jigsaw puzzles. But is that our ultimate goal? Would we give up tenure for the chance to work on a really fun puzzle? Certainly science is a search for truth. In real life, however, it’s never that simple. Truth is too abstract, and too elusive, to actually get you up in the morning and head into the lab.

I suspect, instead, that what really gets us up in the morning is something more immediate: joy.  Anyone who’s ever seen a Hubble image of a nebula, or a spacecraft’s Martian landscape – search the internet – has tasted that joy. But joy is deeper than eye candy.

A few years ago, teaching university physics, I was going over Maxwell’s Equations… I had written them on the blackboard, and we’d begun the mathematical manipulations that Maxwell had first done back in 1865… here was the equation for how electricity gives rise to magnetism, and there how magnetic fields give rise to electric fields… and then if you take a derivative here, and put in a substitution there… As I wrote down the result of this derivation, the final equation, a complicated scrawl of E’s and t’s and del’s and mu-sub-zeros, before I had a chance to turn around and explain to the class what it all meant, my brightest student in the front row suddenly gasped aloud: “Oh my God! It’s a wave!”

Well, yes. The result is indeed the wave equation. In fact, every bit of science we can extract from Hubble’s glorious pictures starts with Maxwell’s equations, and the fact that (oh my God) it’s a wave. The fact that it’s a wave gives us radio; power lines transmitting alternating current; everything electronic; eventually, Einstein’s Relativity. Now, it takes a few years of studying physics, but when you get there, take my word for it – take my student’s word for it – it’s an Oh My God moment.

In my forty years of research, I’ve had a handful of those moments. Nothing as big as Maxwell’s, of course. But it’s not publishing the final paper that I remember; it’s the gasp of amazement the first moment I suddenly saw an unexpected pattern in nature.

Where is God in Science? Science is about the universe – every thing – and God is its Creator, immanent everywhere. Science is about Truth; as Christians, we follow a God who has told us He is “The Way, the Truth, the Life”. But most immediately, science is a source of satisfaction and joy. And Ignatian spirituality tells us that God is the source of consolation, often without cause – the joy that surprises.

This is not a sort of pantheism. God is not the same thing as the laws of nature. But everything that makes science worth doing, desirable to do, everything that gets us out of bed in the morning to do it, is a pointer toward God.

The part of us able to breathe “oh my God” is the human soul: the image and likeness of God. Science needs its “Oh, my God” moments. Science wouldn’t happen, without it.

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

Across the Universe: View from afar
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This column first ran in The Tablet in February 2013

I traveled to Tucson to measure the fluctuating brightness of some small bodies in the outer solar system using the Vatican’s Advanced Technology Telescope. By how often they brighten and dim, we measure how fast these bodies spin; by how much their brightness changes during these cycles, we get a measure of their irregular shapes.

Ignore that gaudy galaxy getting in our way, and notice instead the dots of light, red green blue, marking the passage of the centaur 5145 Pholus through our field of view. The relative brightnesses of the different colors is what we were measuring.

It is not particularly thrilling work. We point the telescope at a given object; take a three-minute exposure with our electronic camera; and then another exposure; and another; and another... These objects typically take about eight hours or more per spin; so we observe one body per night as it rises, crosses the sky, and sets in the west... checking the images for clarity, tweaking the focus, watching the skies to make sure that clouds are not moving in. (We got three clear nights out of five.)

Data in hand, our work is still not done. We must correct each frame for flaws and dust on the image chip, then compare the intensity of the object with that of a nearby constant star, frame by frame, each image providing one dot in a curve tracing out how our object’s brightness varied from moment to moment.

And even knowing that, we still won’t have a full picture of our body. To get a full 3-D sense of its shape we need to measure its brightness fluctuations from at least three different angles. That means, repeating this measurement when the object has moved through at least three different points in its orbit. But since they orbit so far from the Sun, these objects can take many years to move enough for us to get a good view from all sides. Our first data set goes back to the early 1990s; the work we did this month won’t really be useful until another data set can be taken, some ten years from now. It may well be that these data ultimately will be fed into models for the body’s shape made not by us, but by future astronomers who weren’t even born when our first light curves were measured. Astronomers take a long view.

The shape of a small spinning body can help us put limits on how dense and strong it is. That tells us something about how it was made. It’s also useful knowledge if such a body ever finds itself on a collision course with Earth. Another far-distant possibility? Soon after we’d finished our observing run, a fifty-meter asteroid passed less than 20,000 miles from Earth, while a ten-meter meteoriod exploded over a Russian city, injuring thousands.

Our view this trip was distant in another way: for the first time, my colleagues and I were not physically up the mountain with the telescope but in a control room at the University of Arizona, a hundred miles west. This meant we could avoid the four-hour drive up a treacherous mountain road in winter, and we could sleep in our own beds at night. The romance of lonely nights surrounded by pine trees and snow (and thin air) was replaced by the convenience of going out for Mexican food before we started work.

And while we worked, another orbit was coming to a close in Rome. For the second time in my career at the Vatican, I am experiencing a change at the top... without actually being in Rome to witness it. (The funeral of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI occurred while I was in Los Angeles doing Jesuit studies leading to my final vows.)

But then, I am an astronomer. Observing things from a distance is what I do. And only time and distance will allow us to really understand the shape of Benedict’s papacy.

(At the time this was written, we did not know who the next Pope would be... I remember coming home from the observing run, about to drop off to sleep at dawn, only to get a startled email from a friend of mine – a science fiction writer, who happens to be Jewish, not Catholic! – telling me that my Pope had resigned.)

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