An Introduction to the Universe: The Big Ideas of Astronomy
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Now You Know Media presents a new lecture series with Br. Guy An Introduction to the Universe: The Big Ideas of Astronomy In these 12 lectures, Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., Ph.D. leads you on a journey through the Cosmos; you’ll learn how the stars and planets reveal the beauty of Creation, and explore Scripture, the great astronomers, and the most profound questions about the universe. Topics include: Naked Astronomy: How can we to learn the sky, to recognize its regularities and its changes, and find God in the rhythm of the stars? Dark skies: For most of human history, nightfall meant the absence of light, a daily shift of what we could and could not do. How has the ubiquitous presence of artificial light changed the way we the spirituality of preserving our view of the heavens Astronomy in the Bible: How does scripture talk about the stars? What can we learn today about the best way to appreciate the … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Words, Words, Worlds
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Originally published in The Tablet in March, 2004 – the first of many columns I wound up writing about the definition of a planet, leading up to the IAU decision about Pluto in 2006. And this is a repeat of a blog entry first published at the Catholic Astronomer three years ago… as I have run out of Tablet columns to publish! On the other side of Neptune live the Trans-Neptunian Objects, or TNOs. They are worlds so faint that to measure their colors, we use a mirror nearly two meters across to gather their light, which we focus into a spot of only a few hundreds of a millimeter, collecting it with an ultra-sensitive electronic chip, over a five-minute time exposure. They move – more than five minutes and the spot turns into a streak. But take enough exposures over a few hours and you can plot their motions against the background stars and galaxies. The TNOs are thought to be the … Continue reading

Habemus Papam Neram!
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I am writing to you from Rome with wonderful news — we have a new Father General… the so-called “Black Pope”! As you may have seen in our Fall Newsletter I was elected to attend the 36th General Congregation. More than 200 Jesuits from around the world (including six brothers like myself) gathered in Rome at the beginning of October. Our first task was to choose a new Father General, to replace Fr. Nicholas who has retired due to failing health. It was a fascinating process. We spent the first week discussing in detail the current state of the Church and the Jesuit order (while recovering from jet-lag!). Then this past Monday we entered a four day period called “Murmuratio” — where we all broke off into pairs and discussed, one on one, the possible candidates, their strengths and their weaknesses. In this way I had deep conversations — and got to know very well — probably a quarter of all … 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

Across the Universe: Friends in high places
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This column first appeared in The Tablet in June, 2008 The Mars Phoenix mission landed successfully near the north pole of Mars [in 2008]. Even though I don’t study Mars myself, I feel a special connection because the mission is being run out of my old department at the University of Arizona. I know those guys on the TV, explaining how they’ll be digging for ice in the Martian soil. Mars wasn’t the only tourist attraction that summer. The scientists of the Cassini/Huygens Saturn probes held a team meeting in Rome in June, 2008, and two dozen of them came out to visit me at Castel Gandolfo. I showed them our telescopes and libraries and meteorite collection. Friends of mine on the team arranged the visit. Why do I have so many friends in high places? It’s just the nature of my field. There are only a few thousand professional planetary astronomers in the world. We go to the same annual meetings, we … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Maverick Genius
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This column first appeared in The Tablet in May, 2011 This spring [2011], the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) celebrates its 150th anniversary. A breathless article in the Guardian reporting on the celebrations describes MIT as a place of “maverick genius,” contrasting its educational style combining theory and practice against the more stuffy Latin-and-Greek classical schooling found just up the river at Harvard. Forty [now 45!] years ago, I was a student at MIT. Thirty years ago, I taught there. Recently I visited it again with fellow graduates whose son is now a student there himself. It’s still the wonderful place I remember. And it is fun to pretend that we somehow live up to the status of “maverick geniuses.” It’s not true, of course. For one thing, there is nothing inherently preferable to practical knowledge over classical. When I taught physics, I regularly saw that my best students were often those who had in fact also studied Latin or … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Defamiliarization
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This column first ran in The Tablet in February, 2010. I am back at the Vatican Observatory in Tucson, my official American residence, a place I only see a few times a year. Every time I return, I have to reorient myself to the rhythms of the community, and remind myself where to find the coffee in the morning. Doing my wash, I stumbled over a white plastic clothes basket and suddenly realized that it was mine; I’d left it in the laundry room several months ago, during my last visit. My speaking schedule [of 2010] has been intense… including Ardingly College and Cambridge University, then across to a colleague’s lab in Boston College, followed by talks at John Carroll University (Cleveland), The Scripps Research Institute (San Diego), the University of California at Merced, a science fiction convention in Chicago, lectures at Emory University and Agnes Scott College (Atlanta), and ending up at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan … 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

Across the Universe: Words that Change Reality
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My columns for The Tablet often act as a diary of sorts, recording important events in science or in my own life. Such is this column, which first ran in September, 2006. Ten years ago last month [2006], Dave McKay and his colleagues at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston announced that a meteorite, believed to have come from Mars, showed evidence of microbial life. Their interpretations are still widely disputed by the meteoritics community. But, oddly, their announcement resulted in one major change of attitudes. Before, there were still skeptics who were not sure that those rocks came from Mars; now, as the skeptics argue about the putative biogenic grains found in it, no one doubts the Martian origin anymore! Some of us can only be skeptical of one thing at a time, I guess. Still, what you call the meteorite doesn’t really change its nature. Either it is, or it is not, from Mars. Either it is, or … 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

From the Tablet: Tales of Earthlings
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Along with my regular Tablet columns I am asked on occasion to write other articles for them. This one was run in August, 2005, just before the annual World Science Fiction Convention that was held that year in Glasgow. This year, the Worldcon will be held August 19-23 in Spokane, Washington. I’ll be there, too. When I was an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) I belonged to the Science Fiction Society, the “MITSFS”. We had a motto: “We’re not Fans, we just read the stuff.” There was an element of self-parody, of course; if we weren’t fans, why would we pay our dues to belong to a club of “misfits”? (Because the club had a room full of books – some 30,000 SF novels and related material – and comfy chairs, a welcome hideaway on campus.) But the motto also recognized an uncomfortable truth. Even at MIT, science fiction and its Fans had an unsavory reputation: pimply teenagers who … Continue reading

Across the Universe: All of the Above
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This column first appeared in The Tablet in August, 2005 [During a weekend in August, 2005] while over a million young people were gathered in Germany to celebrate World Youth Day with the Pope, a hundred and thirty kids from Detroit were taking part in a parallel camp-out organized by the Archdiocese on the grounds of a small farm in the Thumb of Michigan. (The lower peninsula of my home state, Michigan, is shaped like a mitten, and I grew up on the peninsula jutting into Lake Huron that makes up the mitten’s thumb. Readers of a certain age may remember a British pop band who found a town at the Thumb’s base by sticking a pin into a map and thereby called themselves the Bay City Rollers.) “Turn left onto a dirt road, and look for a pond and a red barn,” read my directions. Every barn in Michigan is red, and nearly every farm has a pond. But I … Continue reading