Across the Universe: Expect Surprises
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This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2014 In a recent [2014!] homily, Pope Francis used a colorful image to describe how the early Church reacted when gentiles approached the apostles and asked to be baptized. Imagine, he suggested, if “a Martian with a big nose and big ears came up and asked for baptism. What would you do?” Naturally, the press decided that the Pope had just endorsed extraterrestrial baptisms. Journalists with access to the internet added a few choice links to similar quotes of mine from years ago. I can’t complain, really. “Would you baptize an extraterrestrial?” is a wonderful starting place to explore the meaning of baptism and redemption. I used the analogy myself in May of 2014, addressing the graduating class of Georgetown University, where my final exhortation was to “be prepared to be surprised.” (Not surprisingly, we have a book with that question as its title, which came out in fall 2014.) But a … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Maybe
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  This column first ran in The Tablet in April 2013 The Kepler Space Telescope, monitoring a hundred thousand stars to catch the faint flickers of light that might indicate the shadows of planets, announced [April 2013] the discovery of a star that may have two super-Earths orbiting within its “Goldilocks zone.” That’s the distance from the star where liquid water should be stable. The idea of a system with two planets that could harbor life brings up all sorts of exciting science-fictional possibilities. Well, maybe. We don’t know for sure yet that either planet really is Earth-like; they could be small gas balls. We don’t know yet if either planet has an atmosphere, much less the sorts of chemicals we associate with life. And after all, our own solar system has two bodies within its Goldilocks zone – Earth and its Moon – but only one has life. For that matter, Mars is close enough to that stable zone … Continue reading

Kepler-452b, Exoplanet, Super-Earth
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Using data from the NASA Kepler space telescope, scientists have confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a sun-like star, 1400 light-years away. A star’s habitable zone is an orbital region where temperatures are just right for water to exist on planetary surfaces. Earth-sized exoplanets (or exomoons) within the habitable zone (sometimes referred to as the “Goldilocks zone”), with liquid water on their surfaces, are good candidates for hosting life. Kepler-452b is about 60% larger than Earth, and more massive – this type of exoplanet is typically referred to as a “Super-Earth;” a human standing on its surface would weigh almost twice as much as they would on Earth. Both Earth and Kepler-452b orbit a G2-type star, each about the same temperature. Kepler-452b’s star is 1.5 billion years older than our sun (about 6 billion years old), and is hotter and brighter than our Sun. Kepler-452b is receiving ten percent more energy from its parent star … Continue reading