Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints.
Today's guestbook entry is from July 21, 1911, when Joel Metcalf made a visit.
Joel H. Metcalf (1866-1925) Source: Old Colony History Museum
Next to his name, Rev. Joel Hastings Metcalf (1866-1925) wrote "Winchester, Mass." He was a Unitarian minister and an avid amateur astronomer who specialized in hunting asteroids and comets.
Between 1905 and 1914, he discovered 41 asteroids and several comets. He was a member of the visiting committees of the Harvard Observatory and the Ladd Observatory (Brown U.)
The asteroids 726 Joëlla and 792 Metcalfia (both among the 41 he discovered) are named for him, and several of the comets he discovered also bear his name.
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep. It is the darkest evening of the year! You probably know about the December 21 solstice—it is the “winter solstice” in the northern hemisphere, and the “summer solstice” in the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere the December 21 solstice is the shortest day of the year; in the southern hemisphere it …Continue reading →
This column from The Tablet was first run in December 2018 December 2018 was a busy month in space. The Japanese Hayabusa II mission was orbiting Ryuku, a tiny near-Earth asteroid. A Chinese probe was about to place a lander on the far side of the Moon. NASA’s Insight mission had just arrived on Mars to measure marsquakes and the heat flowing from its interior. Virgin Galactic was testing a ship that can take tourists above the stratosphere. Of all these, my attention was on OSIRIS-REx. (The name is a typical NASA acronym; don’t ask.) This probe had also just arrived at a near-Earth asteroid, named Bennu, with essentially the same mission as Hayabusa II. It was the dream of the late Mike Drake, my first PhD advisor at the University of Arizona; after his death, the science team lead fell to Dante Lauretta, whose PhD director was my MIT classmate Bruce Fegley. And the rest of the science team …Continue reading →
At last night’s meeting of the Warren Astronomical Society, the topic of the Starlink satellite constellation came up during the “In the News” segment, and a groan of dismay could be heard from the entire audience. If you are unfamiliar with Starlink, it is a constellation of potentially tens of thousands of communication satellites created by SpaceX with the goal of providing global high-speed internet – that concept sounds great! Starlink satellites during a meteor shower on Nov. 22. pic.twitter.com/wJVk1qu49E — Patrick Treuthardt, Ph.D. (@PTreuthardt) November 25, 2019 The first time I became aware of Starlink was after the 2nd satellite deployment mission of May of 2019, when 60 satellites were put into a 53° Earth orbit. Almost immediately satellite sightings started pouring in from around the world. Videos show a long trail of lights traversing the sky, virtually painting the orbits of the satellites in your mind’s eye, and literally painting them in the cameras of astronomers and astrophotographers …Continue reading →
Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from June 21, 1911, when Robert S. Woodward made a visit. Next to his name, Robert Simpson Woodward (1849-1924) wrote, “President Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.” From 1884-1890, he was an astronomer for the U.S. Geological Survey. From 1890-1893, he served in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, during which he developed an inexpensive technique that improved how base lines are established. Following that, he was a professor of mechanics and mathematical physics at Columbia University until 1905, when he became the second president of the Carnegie Institution (after Daniel C. Gilman). During his tenure, the scientific reputation of the Carnegie Institution grew. Woodward also served as president of the American Mathematical Society, president of the American Association for the Advancement of …Continue reading →
The following column was published in The Tablet in November 2009; we ran it again here in 2016. This is the version I finally submitted of the column posted here yesterday… You will know the end-times by their signs, we’re told in the Gospel readings at this time of year. Given the nature of those signs, mostly dramatic events in the sky, you can imagine the kinds of questions that are typically addressed to those of us who study meteorite falls. The apocalyptic visions in the Gospels bear a certain resemblance to our understanding of the destruction that an asteroid impact would produce. Is it mere coincidence? Do I have any advice for the fearful? Yes: read the Gospel passages in their context as lessons on how to live, not how we’ll die. Meanwhile, quit smoking and wear your seat belt. That said, what does science tell us about the end of the world? We know that our solar system has …Continue reading →
Welcome to another re-run; this column first ran here in 2016… Writing my monthly Tablet columns, I often go through many drafts; sometimes the changes are quite radical. This is an early version of the column I wrote for in the Tablet in November, 2009; but it just didn’t feel right, so I kept working at it.. Going through my old columns to publish here at the Catholic Astronomer I discovered that I had kept this version, and I was intrigued by the ideas I was trying to get across… many of which didn’t survive the final draft. So I thought it might be amusing to show you what didn’t get published. You will know the end-times by their signs, we’re told in the Gospel readings at this time of year. Couple that with typical Hollywood end-of-the-world films, and you can imagine the kinds of questions that we who study asteroid collisions and meteorite falls get. (Read the Gospel passages in their context; they are lessons on how to …Continue reading →
Introduction The Sci-Fi Challenge is an activity we have used in teacher workshops. Selections from nine stories (classic sci-fi, sci-fi/fantasy, children’s stories) are provided to teachers working in pairs or small groups, who then choose one or more passage to analyze according to the following directions. What to Look For Read one of the passages provided. Science fiction should be a blend of entertaining storytelling and some level of science fact⸺either proven, possible, or probable. Science fantasy usually relies more heavily on storytelling and improbable science and technology. Think about the passage you read in terms of science, science fiction, and science fantasy. Discuss several of the questions below with your partner or group. Share your conclusions with the class. Is the passage science fiction or science fantasy? Is there scientific fact included in the passage? Does the science (or technology) presented seem probable, possible, or impossible? Does the passage make mistakes in the science facts or concepts it presents? …Continue reading →
Last week I had students in my after-school astronomy and space science club build and fly rockets in Kerbal Space Program. I had them launch and recover a small pre-made rocket, and build-from-scratch a sub-orbital crewed rocket, similar to a Mercury Redstone. The very next day, I gave the “In the News” report at the meeting of the Warren Astronomical Society – I shamelessly pulled material from my previous “In the Sky” post; I included a slide about the Europa Clipper mission, and a couple about mid-ocean rift ecosystems and extremophiles. There will be a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter low on the southwestern horizon all week; Saturn continues to appear high above the southwestern horizon, and makes for an excellent observing target after Jupiter and Venus have set. Kerbal Space Program has been posting bits of astronomy news and space history on their social media feeds lately – I approve! There's a Venus & Jupiter conjunction on Nov 24th. A conjunction …Continue reading →
Today’s featured entry from the Vatican Observatory Faith and Science pages: “From MIT to Specola Vaticana: Guy Consolmagno at TEDx via Della Conciliazione” (click here for it) Brother Guy Consolmagno is a Planetary Scientist at the Vatican Observatory…. He earned a degree from MIT and did post-doctorate work at MIT and the Harvard College Observatory. When he was 29, he joined the Peace Corps in Kenya. There, he taught suffering people about astronomy. He discovered that the desire for scientific knowledge is not limited to educated westerners, but is original and alive in the poor and uneducated. In this way, he discovered that astronomy belongs to us all [click here to continue]. The Faith and Science pages (F&S) are a unique resource on the web. The material in F&S is stuff that you will find nowhere else (or at least not without a lot of digging). Featured areas on F&S include “History of Church and Science”; “Church and Science Today”; …Continue reading →
Fr. Roger Joseph Boscovich S.J. was one of the last great polymaths. His areas of study and work include physics, mathematics, atomic theory, celestial mechanics, geodesy, philosophy, theology, architecture, poetry, and more. Biographical Sketch Ruđer Josip Bošković was born May 18, 1711 to a merchant family in Dubrovnik, in what is today Croatia. He attended the Jesuit school in Dubrovnik. In 1725, he traveled to Rome to study at the Roman College, and in 1731 entered the Jesuit order. He was ordained a priest in 1744. He showed aptitude for mathematics and the natural sciences, and from 1740-1759 served as a professor of mathematics at the Roman College. It is during this time that he made many of his more significant scientific contributions. In 1742, Pope Benedict XIV requested Boscovich’s input on a little problem. The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was developing cracks. Boscovich recommended securing the dome with iron bands, which was then implemented successfully. This led him …Continue reading →
Because of the geometry, changes in the terminator happen more slowly near the lunar poles and shadow phenomena happen more slowly. The deep crater near the center of this image is Scoresby (58km dia.). Above this crater are a pair of similar sized craters. The one closest is Challis (58km) with Main (48km) a bit farther out. They don’t look that dissimilar in size, do they? A line through them leads further north to a much larger crater, Byrd (97km). Further on is the extremely foreshortened crater Peary (77km) looking like a gash on the limb. The far wall of this crater which is literally the limb here, is the lunar north pole! Going back to Scoresby we look below it to a very identifiable cloverleaf of overlapped craters forming a large flat plain. The large central circular region is Meton (126km) with the surrounding lobes (or petals on the cloverleaf) being lettered satellite craters of Meton. Above Meton is …Continue reading →