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

A small brag for one of our bloggers
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We are very happy to report that our blogger Chris Graney just got the finalized contract on a new book: The Mathematical Disquisitions of Locher and Scheiner: the ‘Booklet of Theses’ immortalized by Galileo (by C M Graney) is going to be published by the University of Notre Dame Press. All the writing and peer review is finished; it is currently in production and the Press is aiming to have it in print this fall. The book is his translation from Latin of Johann Georg Locher’s 1614 Disquisitiones Mathematicae.  Galileo devoted a fair bit of space in his 1632 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems to picking on this book of Locher’s. The original (Latin) version of Locher’s book is available on-line, with a thumbnails view also available. Note – lots and lots of pictures!  (That’s one reason to translate it. Another is that is short. And another is that Galileo talks about it a lot.) Chris tells me that he translated Locher with an eye for classroom … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Forced Perspective
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This column first ran in The Tablet in January, 2013 Over New Years [2013], Pope Benedict welcomed 40,000 attendees to the Taizé Youth Gathering in Rome. A few days later, a somewhat smaller number of them attended my workshop on the life and faith of an astronomer. My setting for the talk most appropriate: the marvelous Jesuit church of St. Ignatius. There are a number of astronomical connections to this church. It was designed in the 1600s by Orazio Grassi, a Jesuit priest who was also quite a good astronomer, the first to observe a comet with a telescope. (Galileo never forgave him for that scoop.) Cardinal Bellarmine is buried beneath an altar of the church. Just two years before Grassi’s comets, Galileo had been questioned by Bellarmine, who finally gave him a document certifying that he was no heretic. Bellarmine wasn’t convinced of Galileo’s science, however; the heliocentric system was a radical change, and accepting it then would have … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Tides in our affairs
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  This column first ran in the Tablet in January, 2011 January is the month when novices from my Jesuit province go to a retreat house in Gloucester, Massachusetts, for a month of silent prayer. Surrounded by nature – the tides rolling onto the rocky shoreline, the inevitable winter blizzard – they confront God and themselves. Meanwhile, my nephews are avoiding those same winter storms by visiting their grandparents in Florida, enjoying the tides in the Gulf of Mexico. Surfing is, perhaps, its own form of prayer. The ocean tides are a powerful symbol of God’s presence. Their regular rise and fall makes the whole Earth feel like it’s alive. To the American political commentator, Bill O’Reilly, who strongly identifies himself with his Catholic roots, they are in fact a proof of God. Recently, debating an atheist on his television program, O’Reilly shrugged off his opponent’s arguments by merely observing: “Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You … 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

“Setting aside all authority” – news from the history of astronomy
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One of the joys of my recent past has been getting to know Chris Graney, a historian of science who works at a little community college in Louisville, Kentucky, but who has been setting the world of the history of science on its ear with a series of remarkable articles about the anti-Copernican astronomers of the 17th century. You’ve probably heard it before… Galileo challenged the world and changed the face of science by insisting that one look at the evidence, rather than relying on authority the way that everyone else did in those days. Right? Except… what you probably know about “everyone else” is what you yourself heard, or read, from some other authority! Graney has actually read the books by “everyone else” and, surprise… reality turns out to be much more interesting than what “everybody knows.” He now has a book out, from Notre Dame Press, with details to be found here. Meanwhile, if you haven’t had enough … Continue reading