It is often said that Isaac Newton wrote more about the Bible and religion than about science and math. However, his religious writings were generally unpublished, and have always been relatively inaccessible and little studied. Robert Iliffe, the author of the 2017 book Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton, tells us that this is due to a number of reasons, but that in the 21st century these writings have all become widely available. Iliffe introduces his readers to Newton’s work and to his thought. Newton was anti-Trinitarian, anti-Catholic, and had a poor opinion of St. Athanasius (to put it mildly). He sought to live a godly, almost monastic life (but he was also anti-monk). Iliffe shows Newton’s faith being central to all his work, throughout his life, whether that work was in physics, mathematics, or religion..... [click here to continue].
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Last night, I gave the featured presentation during the Warren Astronomical Society’s online WebEx/YouTube meeting: The Challenges of Interstellar Travel. I cannot believe how much I learned putting this presentation together; honestly, there’s probably weeks more research I could do, and papers I could read. I discussed sending small probes and giant generation ships to the stars, and the enormous amount of energy, resources and manufacturing it would require. I talked about physical and mental problems related to space travel, and what it would take to keep humans alive during an interstellar voyage. I concluded my presentation suggesting maybe we should make sure all the life-support systems are functioning properly on the generation ship we all share, and are travelling through interstellar space aboard. The NASA at Home page has links to lots of online NASA resources for things to do at home – here’s a couple: Space Place parents and educators page: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/menu/parents-and-educators/ Solar System Exploration’s 10+ things: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/1192/10-things-to-do-with-nasa-at-home/ NASA …Continue reading →
I wish to begin by extending a sincere word of support for any readers of Sacred Space Astronomy that have been impacted by Coronavirus or has a loved one who is suffering with or has died from this virus. I know that Sacred Space Astronomy is read by people that are Catholic, Non-Catholic, and those whose life journey has led them to question God. As a Catholic Priest, I feel inclined to focus this post with a prayer. The Redemporist Order, the Order that runs the center where I am on sabbatical, has a unique devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Catholic tradition of asking the Saints for prayers evokes the intuitive act many of us have of asking good friends and family to pray for us in our need. We don’t pray to Mary as a deity, but ask that her motherly love wrap us with her prayers as any loving mother would. In that spirit: Mary, …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 July 4, 1913, when Curvin H. Gingrich made a visit. Next to his name, Curvin Henry Gingrich (1880-1951) wrote, “Popular Astronomy, Goodsell Obsy. Northfield, Minn.” He was the third editor of the magazine Popular Astronomy. From 1909 until his death in 1951, he was on the faculty at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. His research involved the measurement of positions and proper motions of stars, and later photometry. He joined the editorial staff of Popular Astronomy in 1910, and became its editor in 1926. Under his leadership, the magazine developed a close relationship with the American Astronomical Society. Unfortunately, the magazine died shortly after Gingrich in 1951. …Continue reading →
Astronomically-themed art does not always show up where you might expect. You might visit a large art museum and find almost no astronomical imagery at all, and then you might go to a market and find astronomical imagery in abundance. And then, you might drive through a small town in Indiana, and find there, in the middle of a town park, a forty-foot tall stone monument to astronomy—or more specifically, to the exploration of space. The town is Mitchell, Indiana, and the monument is a representation of Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom’s Gemini spacecraft, standing atop a cluster of large stone panels that relay Grissom’s professional accomplishments.* Grissom was one of the original Mercury 7 U.S. astronauts. He was the first human being to return to space: he went into space on the Liberty Bell 7 mission on July 21, 1961, and then again on the Gemini 3 mission on March 23, 1965. He was also one of the three astronauts …Continue reading →
This blog was originaly posted shortly after Easter 2019 – This year sadly my Easter Space Camp for children can not take place due to COVID 19. Ironicly the children are not in school for the same reason and Space Camp would have been a very useful event for both kids and parents struggling in this crisis. Stay safe, hope you enjoy this rerun. Children spinning their little handmade Saturn models with joy !! At Easter I ran a small space camp for children. It was over three mornings in Louisburgh Co Mayo.The venue was Books at One, the local community bookshop. We packed a lot of things into the three mornings, in fact, I had too much planned. Better too much than too little in my experience. Space Camp joy abounded ! Day 1 Space Camp We built paper rockets that we blew into space (in the room). I have a box of interesting forever goodies. These are intended …Continue reading →
And then I wrote… This one dates from the International Year of Astronomy. It was published in the Times (of London) Higher Education Supplement on June 25, 2009. One of the odd side-effects of being an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory is that we often get elected to various positions in professional astronomical societies. It may be the special respect that our fellow scientists have for the Vatican; or, more likely, the fact that we don’t have to spend a large part of our days writing grant proposals (in competition with everyone else) to fund our research means that, unlike most astronomers, we have the free time to spend on these important but time-consuming offices. Whatever the reason, it has meant that for the past few years I have been watching the buildup to the IYA – the International Year of Astronomy – from the vantage point as a past president of Commission 16 (Moons and Planets) of the International …Continue reading →
A three-planet conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn continues in the early morning southeastern sky; Mars passes very close to Saturn on March 31st, and by the start of next week will be well beyond Saturn. Venus is high in the western sky well after sunset; each evening, Venus will move a bit upwards towards the Pleiades star cluster, until it appears to be part of the cluster itself on the evening of April 6th! The Moon is a waxing crescent, visible toward the southwest in early evening. The first-quarter Moon occurs on April 1st, it will be visible high in the southern sky in early evening. After April 1st the Moon will be a waxing gibbous, visible to the southeast in early evening, and up for most of the night. Apollo 8 and 13 – Jim Lovell at 92 Happy Birthday Captain James Lovell 92 today! A former NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Naval captain who made historic …Continue reading →
Since my last posting about what we’re up to, several other members of the Vatican Observatory have chimed in with their short reports on what they’ve been up to in this time of pandemic… In the spring semester, Fr. Paul Mueller SJ normally teaches a philosophy of science course at the Pontifical Gregorian University; his offering this year is “Philosophical Questions in Biology”. And of course now he has shifted to on-line teaching, Meanwhile, as the superior of the community and vice-director of the Observatory, he has charge of the day to day running of the operation in Castel Gandolfo. He writes, “I’ve been working day-to-day with the Observatory’s lay staff members to determine whether they will come to work and what they can be doing, within the limits we must observe. All of us Jesuits have had extra time for reading and prayer. And last evening we had a cookout!” Fr. Gabriele Gionti SJ is also in Castel Gandolfo. …Continue reading →
Wow, it has already been a year since the first post on this series about religious scientists. In that year, we’ve looked at men and women who have contributed to astronomy and astrophysics, biology, chemistry, paleontology, computer science, meteoritics, medicine, and more. My goal in starting the column was to highlight people who had religious vocations (priests, monks, sisters, brothers, etc.) who at the same time contributed to our scientific understanding of the natural world. These people serve as a sign to the world of the compatibility of faith and science. I thought I would celebrate the completion of this year by taking a brief pause and looking back at the people discussed in previous posts. This also serves as an opportunity for you the reader to catch up on anyone that you may have missed. Fr. Angelo Secchi S.J.: Jesuit priest. He is one of the pioneers of astrophysics. He developed a spectral classification system for stars and was …Continue reading →
Half of the astronomers from the Vatican Observatory work out of Castel Gandolfo, Italy, and the other half in Tucson. Italy has been under a strict lock-down for several weeks, while the University of Arizona is also closed and members of staff are strongly urged to stay home. In particular, all the telescopes at the Mount Graham International Observatory, including the Vatican’s Advanced Technology Telescope (the VATT), have been shut down in order to allow the day staff to stay down the mountain, closer to home and family (and, should it be necessary, medical care.) But our “commute” in Castel Gandolfo is just walking downstairs from the community living quarters to the Specola offices. And our home in Tucson is well served by the internet. (In fact, my own office as president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation is just a room in our house here in Tucson.) Still, I was curious to find out what people have been up to. …Continue reading →
Katherine Johnson died last month, at the age of 101. If her name does not ring a bell then you probably never read the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, and you probably never saw the movie Hidden Figures. Both book and movie are about a group of mathematicians who worked at NASA Langley during the “Space Race”, when the United States was in competition with the Soviet Union over prowess in space. The mathematicians in Hidden Figures were all women, and all African American. They worked at Langley, in Virginia in the U.S.A., at a time when the state of Virginia was fiercely devoted to racial segregation. All the Langley women were talented, but Katherine Johnson seems to have been particularly brilliant, and she has been particularly honored over time. NASA has a Katherine Johnson computing facility. Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of …Continue reading →