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… 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 … Continue reading

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 … Continue reading

Five Reasons Why Clickbait Works
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There’s two opposing theories about posting stuff in the week between Christmas and New Years. On the one hand, everyone’s off having a good time and not paying attention to the internet. On the other hand, nobody else is posting anything so you have a better chance than usual of actually being noticed by the folks who do. It’s been a while since I have posted a diary on The Catholic Astronomer about this blog itself, so I am taking these off-days to do so. Since the self-referential title promised five points (I just made up the number five now, I have no idea how many points I’ll have) let me start numbering them. Even though we don’t charge you for reading it, this web site is not free. I pay (a pittance, admittedly) to our bloggers, and that money has to come from someplace. In addition we pay a standing fee to Cyrcle Systems for regular maintenance, etc. Some months … Continue reading

5 Amazing Astronomical Things about Choosing a New Jesuit General!
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This week, more than 200 Jesuits from around the world are gathering in Rome to elect a new Father General; you can read all about it here. But for readers of The Catholic Astronomer, I thought I would pass on five amazing things that you might not know… For the first time ever, the electors will consist not only of priests from each Jesuit province around the world but also six brothers, chosen from each continent. The representative brother from North America is, in fact… me. So, there will be at least one astronomer at the meeting. All the more reason to pray for all of us! (No fear I will get elected the new Father General — the leader has to be a priest, not a brother. (What’s the difference? Priests are ordained, brothers are not. I do not lead public prayer, say Mass, or do any of those other priestly functions. I am a layperson, who belongs to a religious … Continue reading

Star-mapping Sisters
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The topic came up a few months back on our Twitter account. Someone had mentioned the famous photo of the Sisters of the Child Mary at the measuring machine, taking careful measure of the position of each star on a photographic plate from the Vatican Observatory’s Carte du Ciel telescope. Someone else asked, “Do we know who those sisters were?” I resolved to find out as soon as I got back to Rome. And, unlike many of my resolutions, I actually did it. Then someone said it would make a good Catholic Astronomer posting. Which it would. But, just back from the US, I have been flooded with paperwork and details to get ready for our biennial summer school; so I begged off. Instead, Carol Glatz of the Catholic News Service (the folks who prepare press reports from Rome for the US Catholic Bishops) asked if she could step in. She’s just published a wonderful and detailed story about them, … Continue reading

Another reminder… support this site!
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Since my last “meta” posting like this, nearly a year ago, our site has grown wonderfully. We now have three hundred or more hits a day, double what we were doing a year ago, and some 225 people subscribe to the free emails that tell them when a new posting occurs. But this site does not run for free. I am a strong believer that good writers deserve to be paid, and even though we can’t afford much, we do pay our (non-Jesuit) contributors. We also pay an excellent IT person to keep the site up and running. The funds come from “supporters like you” as PBS likes to remind us. Plus, we hope that subscribers to this site will be moved to support the astronomy and outreach work of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. That means, please, if you can, consider joining our Sacred Space group. For just $10 a month you can help us do the work we do, … Continue reading

Happy Hundredth, Mildred!
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I got an email from my friend (and fellow planetary scientist) Rick Binzel: “I just learned that Mildred Shapley Matthews (the lovable taskmaster and technical editor who drove the Space Science Series forward for decades) recently celebrated her 100th birthday.” Funny thing was, I was just telling someone about Mildred earlier that day. She was the editor of the University of Arizona Space Science series of books for many years. In fact, she edited my very first paper – a chapter in the Jupiter book – and did a fantastic job, making my prose much better and clearer. She was also the very first person I ever met at the University of Arizona. I arrived late on a Saturday night for the Jupiter conference that was about to begin (this was May, 1975) and, seeing that there would be a walking trip up Sabino Canyon on Sunday morning, I managed to find the ride and met her on the trail. She … Continue reading

“Exploring the Big Questions of the Universe…”
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Last spring, Now You Know Media released a set of lectures by me about Galileo. Well, the’ve done it again! The newest set of lectures are titled “Exploring the Big Questions of the Cosmos with a Vatican Scientist”… and my friends at Now You Know tell me that it’s already become the best new seller of their catalog for the last 12 months. (Which means, I guess, that it’s now outselling my Galileo series; how dare I outsell myself!) I recorded these lectures in June, at a time that was particularly hectic for me: I was speaking in Canada, attending my province’s Congregation in Baltimore, and doing who knows what else. As a result, I have no memory of what I actually said in any of these talks. Who knows what odd comments and bad puns I came up with? In any event, here’s a table of contents: Does Science Need God? Scripture or Science? Is the Big Bang Compatible with a Creator … Continue reading

2016 Calendars are available!
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  Every year, the Vatican Observatory Foundation publishes a calendar featuring fantastic astronomical images from amateurs around the world… and noting dates of particular interest to astronomers. They can be purchased online here… This year’s calendar is out, and it looks great. (OK, so as proofreader I missed a couple of glitches, which immediately made themselves obvious as soon as I opened up the printed version. Nothing as bad as a couple years ago when we got Galileo’s birthday wrong!) On the back, I always write a pithy little paragraph or two that nobody reads. As a freebie for readers of The Catholic Astronomer, here’s what I put there this year: A few years ago, a couple of cosmologists who styled themselves as atheists attempted to show that there was “no need for God” to start the universe, at the moment popularly known as the Big Bang. They proposed thatthat a quantum fluctuation in the zero-energy vacuum field of the … Continue reading

Fan Mail Poetry
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I get fan mail now and then; but this one included a poem, which I thought I would share, just for the fun of it! Dr. Will Buckingham is a reader in Writing and Creativity at De Montfort University, in Leicester, England, adjacent to the River Soar. He’s the author of a number of books, both academic and fiction, including children’s books. He included this note: “I was rummaging through some old boxes prior to moving house, and I stumbled across a bunch of notebooks from something like ten years back. Leafing through, I found a short poem that I’d written having seen you talk at the science museum in Birmingham. A few days after the talk, if I remember rightly, I was teaching a writing class, and I was encouraging my students to write sonnets, so I weighed in and produced the attached poem. The title is ‘The Pope’s Astronomer’’. I’m more of a fiction/philosophy writer than a poet, but it … Continue reading

Another meta-posting…
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I’ve just come back from a wonderful week at Notre Dame University’s Institute for Church Life, joining an all-star cast to talk about how science and religion can be taught in Catholic high schools. Naturally I spent no small amount of time bragging about this blog to the assembled high school teachers; I think what we have to offer here may well be the kind of content they’d enjoy seeing and sharing. And I’ve seen a nice upturn in our “hits” this week as a result; welcome! At the moment, we typically get 100 – 250 views a day, and I am delighted that these viewers – you – find our blog worth reading. But I would love to raise that number, by a lot. Surely a thousand or more visits a day ought to be possible? Surely on the internet there must be a thousand people who share our enthusiasm for space and our desire to blend together the science … Continue reading

Chile Diary 4: ALMA… and Ceres?
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Our last stop on the Chile trip was San Pedro de Atacama, a hiker’s paradise that now serves as the headquarters for the APEX microwave telescope (a friend of mine was using it while we were there) and the ALMA microwave radio telescope array, located at 16,400 feet (5,000 meters). It’s so high up that you have to be examined by a doctor before they let you visit. Everyone in our group passed the test… except me. (I was on antibiotics, fighting a sinus infection I’d picked up in Denver.) As I result, I don’t have first-hand descriptions… but these are some of the photos that Katie took and shared with us: But along with the telescopes, we also got to visit a couple of the remarkable sites near San Pedro… the El Tatio hot springs and geysers (best seen at sunrise, which meant an early start for us) and the “Valley of the Moon”, a remarkable collection of mountains … Continue reading