Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
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  This column first ran in The Tablet in April 2014 A member of our Vatican Observatory community, Fr. Bill Stoeger, died of cancer last month [2014]. I could say that Bill was both the smartest man and the holiest man I have known; but he would have rejected that characterization out of hand. So I will only say that his goodness and his genius never ceased to move me. He’s the only person I know who could work the mathematics of the Big Bang, and also direct retreats for religious women. Bill’s religious faith did not control the science he did, but how he did it. For example, more often than not he collaborated with scientists from the developing world – South Africa and Brazil in particular. And he showed a special patience with those members of our scientific community who could be brilliant but eccentric and sometimes hard to deal with. His scientific output was astonishing. At Cambridge … Continue reading

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

Across the Universe: Heavenly Visitors
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This column first ran in The Tablet in December 2006 The reporter from the BBC was shocked that I wasn’t shocked: Could the seeds of life have come to Earth from outer space? He was interviewing me about a new [in 2006] discovery published in Science. In a meteorite retrieved from a frozen lake in northern Canada, researchers found chemical compounds that could be the precursors of life, sitting in small round voids that could have served as the templates for early cells. Meteorites are my business, and the scientists cited are colleagues and friends of mine, but even so I couldn’t understand why a BBC reporter in London was trying to interview me. The data are new and intriguing, yes, but it’s hardly a new idea. For more than 150 years, meteorites have been known to contain organic chemicals. “But doesn’t the stuff of life coming to us from off the Earth contradict the Church’s teaching that only Earth is … Continue reading

From the Tablet: God is dead; long live the eternal God
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This article first appeared in The Tablet on 11 September 2010, pp 4-5, following the publication of the book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design Stephen Hawking is not the first scientist to declare God obsolete. But his latest findings following his researches into the origins of the universe provoke profound questions about our perceptions of God and the relationship between science and theology. “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist… It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Such were the fighting words excerpted in the press from Stephen Hawking’s latest book, The Grand Design, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow. So no need for God, science has it all sorted. In the late 1920’s, the Belgian mathematician (and Catholic priest) Georges Lemaître had … Continue reading

Matter and Energy: the14th Marcel Grossman Meeting
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This article was written in Italian by Fr. Gabriele Gionti, SJ, of the Vatican Observatory. It originally appeared in the L’Osservatore Romano on July 29, 2015. The translation is by VOF Development Director Katie Steinke,and has been adapted for this blog post by Br. Guy. When Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity began to be understood not simply as a theory with an intrinsic mathematical beauty but as something that could be applied successfully to describe compact objects such as neutron stars and black holes, relativistic astrophysics was born. General Relativity describes the universe close to the beginning of time (t=0). But “time zero” itself is a “singularity”: many quantities that are basic elements of the theory no longer have a meaning that can be described by the theory. Close to that moment, in what is called the “Planck Time,” it has been proposed that gravity could be described through Quantum Mechanics into what has been called quantum gravity. Two theories moving in this direction are … Continue reading