An abundance of erroneous information can be found in books. Unfortunately, that includes science books for children. Recently I have been perusing children’s science books, looking for good material for the Vatican Observatory Faith & Science site, and I keep coming across things like the images below—a page from Scientists Who Made History: Isaac Newton (published 2001 by Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers: A Harcourt Company). This is from a section of the book that talks about Newton studying the motions of the planets.
Note the caption that reads “An early diagram from the 1600s showing the movements of the planets, all of which are travelling around the Sun in the center of the illustration”. But note that, in fact, the Sun is not in the center of the illustration. The Earth is in the center. It is not travelling around the Sun; the Sun is travelling around it.
The diagram is of the theory of Tycho Brahe. Brahe’s name can be seen in the Latin inscription at the top right of the diagram. When Newton worked to understand the motion of the moon and planets, it was the theory of Nicolaus Copernicus that he worked with (in which all of the planets indeed travelled around the Sun), not this. As we have seen before, this is not the first time this diagram of Brahe’s theory has shown up incorrectly in a children’s book. And this is such a bad error.
Another example of a pretty bad error can be found in Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, by Peter Sis, (published 1996 in the US by Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus, Giroux, and in Canada by HarperCollinsCanadaLtd—yes, that’s how it is spelled). This is a lovely book. It was a 1997 Caldecott Honor book. Unfortunately, it contains this:
In fact Galileo was not ordered to stop believing what he could see with his own two eyes. Everyone with a good telescope and a little skill could see what Galileo could see, and they did see it. When Christina of Lorraine questioned Galileo’s friend Fr. Benedetto Castelli about Galileo’s ideas—thus setting into motion all of what has come to be known as “The Galileo Affair”—the issue was not what Galileo could see. Even one of Christina’s allies reminded her that everything Galileo said he could see had indeed been verified to be real. The issue was how Galileo interpreted what everyone could see. The issue was what Galileo could prove, or even back up with solid argument (and as has been discussed here before, the “solid argument” thing was a problem for Galileo). Had it all been a matter of things Galileo could see with his own two eyes, “The Galileo Affair” would not exist.
But the book says Galileo was ordered to stop believing what he could see with his own two eyes. There is a story being told by Sis. The story is about Galileo and the Church. The book has a good bit of creepy imagery in it (below). The creepy stuff is for the Church. Fair enough. The Church treated Galileo badly, regardless of the quality of his arguments.
But what of Science? Science is quietly harmed by the errors in these books. When Galileo is said to have been ordered to stop believing what he could see, a true story is traded for a fictional one. The fictional story is about the Church. The true story that is lost is about Science. What these books say with their errors, is that Science does not really matter. Copernican system, Tychonic system—what’s the big deal, right? What matters is Newton studied the motions of planets, right? And the Church tried Galileo for something regarding astronomy, right? It must have had something to do with something he saw, right? Who really wants to bother with all those scientific details about ‘who thought what’ and ‘what was the scientific debate’? And so the whole true story is lost because the crucial scientific material is lost—the material that tells us how science worked during the battle over the Earth’s motion (the battle between the theory of Copernicus in which the Earth moved, and the theory of Tycho Brahe—the same one that is erroneously shown in that diagram above—in which Earth did not move). That lost material teaches us how science works overall.
I have found the sorts of errors discussed here in many different children’s books. No wonder we have problems with acceptance of even basic science like vaccinations (and then we have problems with measles outbreaks). If we publish error-filled books for children about science, and even honor those books, children will learn erroneous ideas about science. They then grow up to be adults with erroneous ideas about science.
Have you heard the news about the UFOs and the Navy pilots? It has been covered by a variety of media outlets. Years ago there existed a cheesy tabloid newspaper called the Weekly World News. You could find copies for sale in the check-out lanes of grocery stores. The front page of the WWN always featured some sort of bizarre story about half-human/half-bat creatures, or Bigfoot, or (of course) UFOs and Space Aliens. The WWN is gone from the checkout lanes, but today it is the major news outlets that are providing coverage of UFOs and Space Aliens.
The UFO coverage relates to U.S. Navy pilots who have reported encountering objects shaped like “Tic Tac” candies, but large (up to 40 feet long). The Tic Tacs reportedly fly about and perform all sorts of incredible aerial maneuvers. Just recently the Navy confirmed that certain video clips related to these reports (video clips that have been banging around the internet for a while now) are “real”.
The New York Times has published stories about the Tic Tacs over the past few years. The Times stories contain discussion of the Tic Tacs “accelerating to hypersonic speed [over five times the speed of sound—that is, over ~3800 mph/6200 kph], making sudden stops and instantaneous turns”. Sometimes the objects were visible to radar and infrared sensors, but not visible through a pilot’s helmet camera, while other times pilots report having seen the objects, and even having nearly collided with them. The Times stories also describe the objects as having “no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes”, and no “wings or rotors”. NPR reported that one of the objects “flew faster than [the Navy’s] F/A-18 fighter jets but left no detectable turbulence”. The Times and NPR have not been alone in reporting on the UFOs: Popular Mechanics, the Huffington Post, CNN, Time, the Washington Post , CBS, and NBC have covered them, too—and have covered the fact that the Navy takes these UFO reports seriously, and wants pilots to report these sorts of encounters (rather than keeping mum about them for fear of damaging their reputations).
But as thunder follows lightning, and as smoke follows fire, Space Aliens follow UFOs. And so it is here. The New York Times makes certain to state that “experts caution that earthly explanations often exist for such incidents, and that not knowing the explanation does not mean that the event has interstellar origins”. The Times cites Leon Golub, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, as saying that “the possibility of an extraterrestrial cause ‘is so unlikely that it competes with many other low-probability but more mundane explanations’”. And they note that “no one in the Defense Department is saying that the objects were extraterrestrial, and experts emphasize that earthly explanations can generally be found for such incidents”. But the Times is still making plenty of mention of Space Aliens.
Others embrace the Space Alien connection without reserve. Luis Elizondo—who, according to the Times, was a military intelligence official who ran “the Pentagon's shadowy, little-known Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which analyzed the radar data, video footage and accounts” from the Navy until he resigned in 2017—told CNN that “my personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone”. Scott Simon, writing for NPR in a piece called “We May Not Be Alone”, offers that the implications of the Tic Tacs “may be staggering”, and mentions movie Space Aliens: Gort, the Klingons, E.T. and Chewbacca. The Washington Post quotes one of the pilots who encountered the Tic Tacs as saying that they are “something not from the Earth”. And of course you can find plenty on the internet that goes much further, if you search a bit.
I recommend you abstain from that searching, for you will no doubt find stuff that makes the Weekly World News look tame. O Readers of Sacred Space Astronomy, we need a Reality Check here! There will be no Reality Check from the major media, apparently, so it looks like this is a job for your friendly neighborhood Vatican Observatory—Catholic Astronomer—Sacred Space Astronomy blogger. So consider this idea:
THE TIC TACS ARE MAGICAL!
Yes, those 40-foot long Tic Tacs that have no engines, no exhaust, no infrared plumes—that can travel hypersonically, stop suddenly, turn instantly, and that can accelerate, in the words of one pilot, “like nothing I've ever seen”—that even create no turbulence despite outrunning an F/A-18—those are magical aircraft. Things that are magical are not bound by the laws of physics. Harry Potter’s broom is an aircraft that is not bound by the laws of physics. It is magical.
But things that are not magical are bound by the laws of physics. To accelerate a non-magical aircraft forward requires a force on that craft: acceleration = force/mass. To make an instantaneous turn requires a particularly large force. In common experience, objects make instantaneous turns when they hit some massive object; for example, when a ball strikes a solid wall or the hard ground. A ball bouncing off a solid surface makes an instantaneous turn, and is subjected to a tremendous force in the process. But non-magical craft tend not to survive collisions with solid surfaces. Thus non-magical craft will not make instantaneous turns. Moreover, to have a force on the aircraft implies another equal force on a different body: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Thus to push an aircraft forward or to turn it instantaneously requires that something receive an equal and opposite push—thus, exhaust, or rotor wash, or some similar disturbing of the environment near the craft. And, an aircraft passing through the air displaces the air, and an aircraft passing through the air at high speed generates turbulence. Non-magical aircraft cannot get around the laws of physics.
We cannot invoke some super technology to get around the laws of physics and explain the motions of the Tic Tac UFOs. Even super technology must obey the laws of physics. Even a UFO powered by super technology requires force to accelerate and turn, displaces air, and uses energy and thus generates heat.
Suppose that we argue that the UFOs must operate on some super-duper technology that involves principles of physics that our science has not yet discovered—principles that negate the principles of acceleration and force described above. Well, that is the same thing as arguing that the UFOs must operate on magic. Of course we cannot prove that there are no undiscovered principles of physics and super-duper technologies out there that render possible that which is impossible, and that explain the flight of the Tic Tacs. But that same argument can be applied to Harry Potter’s broom. We cannot prove that there is no magic. Once we leave what is scientifically known, we leave what is scientifically known. In either case, Harry Potter’s broom or super-duper technology, we are talking about magic.
So the Tic Tacs, if they are objects, are essentially magical. Given this, we have to then ask, who made them? Who flies them? Why, magical creatures, of course. Obviously Space Aliens with magical super-duper technology are the perennial “we are not alone” favorite for this sort of thing, but let us be logical here. These events involve the Navy, so would not magical sea creatures be a more logical conclusion than extraterrestrials? Why not conclude that the Tic Tacs are the craft of Mermaids, rather than of Space Aliens? Science and history have both shown us that the idea of a universe populated by Space Aliens, like we see in Star Wars, is an idea that just has not worked out (click here for a full discussion of this). Over the centuries we scientists have consistently supposed that extraterrestrials existed in various places (the sun, the moon, Mars); we have consistently supposed that other planets would be more or less like Earth; and we have consistently been wrong. Science has shown us that other planets tend not to be much like Earth, other planetary systems tend not to be much like our solar system. We are recognizing today that habitable planets might not be so common. But the Earth, and its oceans, are habitable. No doubt about it.
Thus Mermaids flying Tic Tacs are far more scientifically plausible than Space Aliens flying Tic Tacs: the ocean is habitable; Mermaids do not have to traverse the unimaginable vastness of interstellar space to get here. And there is still further logic to suggest that the UFOs are the products of Mermaids rather than Space Aliens: Why would Space Aliens traverse the interstellar vastness just to bug Navy pilots? By contrast, we can easily imagine why Mermaids would be harassing the Navy. They are sick of the sonar, sick of the trash in the ocean, sick of the over-fishing, sick of the ships going hither and yon. Unlike Ariel, they do not want to be part of our world. No doubt the Mermaids have decided that it is time to build some magical Tic Tacs and show the surface people’s military their Mer-power!
That is our Reality Check.
So why do you suppose the media never make mention of Mermaids? Perhaps because thinking of the UFOs in terms of Mermaids exposes the absurdity of magical thinking—our Reality Check shows how unReal the “Space Aliens” coverage of the Tic Tacs has been. Yet, it is culturally acceptable to think of magical UFOs if Space Aliens are involved—so acceptable that it is found widely in the media, and not just in the Weekly World News. But, speaking scientifically and logically, that magical thinking about Space Aliens is even more absurd in this case than is magical thinking about Mermaids.
The absurdity of the media’s mentioning of Space Aliens does not mean that the topic of the Tic Tac UFOs is itself absurd. The Navy pilots are detecting something. The Navy clearly wants pilots to report this stuff, and not to just keep quiet about it out of fear of having to hear “Men in Black” jokes for the rest of their lives. The Navy is encouraging pilots to report any “unidentified aerial phenomenon” (a far better term than “unidentified flying object” or “UFO”) they may see. There are plenty of non-magical explanations for these phenomena. Harvard’s Golub listed some for the Times: “bugs in the code for the imaging and display systems, atmospheric effects and reflections, neurological overload from multiple inputs during high-speed flight”. Perhaps more worrisome than bugs in the code is the possibility that some folks have figured out how to hack their way into the code so as to play games with the pilots. Any of these more mundane explanations might be of genuine concern to the Navy, sufficient to prompt it to encourage pilots to report any strange things they see.
And none of these require the existence of magical aircraft. Or Mermaids. Or Space Aliens. Or anything else that would have been right at home in the Weekly World News.
And to be clear for the record, I am not seriously advocating The Mermaid Magical UFO Hypothesis. (I would hate to see some headline that says we are advocating for the existence of Mermaids flying UFOs here at Sacred Space Astronomy.)
A month or so ago I was picking on the new “Lion King” movie for how unrealistic was its depiction of the night sky, despite everything else in the movie seeming so realistic in appearance. Well, I have discovered another interesting critique of the “Lion King” sky. It was on the WRAL (North Carolina) Weathercenter Blog. There Tony Rice writes that
While the animals and landscapes in [the 2019 “Lion King”] are photorealistic, the sunrise that opens this shot-for-shot remake is less realistic than the hand-drawn original.
Rice compares the 1994 and 2019 versions of the movie, providing images of the sunrise from both, and noting how the 2019 version does not show the pronounced rippling effect that is seen in the 1994 version. He writes:
In the 2019 [version] the sun is rounder, nearly white and emerges smoothly above the horizon. The 1994 version shows a deeper yellow, almost orange, more flattened sun rippling its way up. The undulating effect seen in the 1994 [version] is gone in the latest version. Those ripples are created by turbulent air rising upward. This would be expected as the rising sun disturbs [and] heats the nocturnal boundary layer, air near the ground which has cooled and become very stable overnight. Air turbulence is also what makes stars appear to twinkle at night.
So here we have another illustration of how the makers of the 2019 “Lion King” neglected the sky despite their other efforts at realism. But something readers of Sacred Space Astronomy/The Catholic Astronomer might find especially interesting is that the rippling effect that Rice discusses here was discussed by a Catholic priest of the Society of Jesus and his student, more than four hundred years ago. Fr. Christoph Scheiner and his student Johann Georg Locher wrote on just this effect in their 1614 astronomy book entitled Mathematical Disquisitions. In discussing visible distortions of the disk of the sun, they wrote:
|Caussa vna & Sola est, vapores inter nos & Solem interiecti. Qui cum tota nocte terris quiete satis incubent, mane radiis solaribus excitati, calore concepto in altum enituntur, suaque fluctuatione, quia perfecte diaphani non sunt, & varie insuper figurati, multumque aquositatis admixtum gestant; Solarem conum oculis illapsum, mire carpunt, lacerant, findunt, interturbant. At vero augescente die, & eleuantur altius, & excoquuntur purius, & magis rarefiunt, congregatis vi caloris homogeneis partibus, & stabliores redduntur; hinc fit, vti Sol vespertinus communiter integrior placidiorque arrideat matutino. Haec autem ita se habere, inde manifestum euadat, quod in ipso exortus puncto Sol plerumque pacatus & aequus secundum oram ad aliquantillum temporis perseueret; paulatim vero, praecedentibus praesertim nocturnis pluuiis, exasperatus dentes ostentet graduque vacillet: quandoque etiam, constanti maxime serenitate, semper sibi similis incedat. Vnde certum maneat, hanc eius seabritiem vnico inter Solem medio esse tribuendam.||The one and only cause of this is the vapors present between us and the sun. These lie quite still over the lands throughout the night, but in the morning they are aroused by the warming rays of the sun. When heated, they rise. And, because they fluctuate and change in shape, because they are not perfectly diaphanous, because they carry water vapor in varying amounts, they agitate, cleave, mangle, and despoil amazingly the solar light that is passing through them toward our eyes. But as the day passes, the heating lifts these vapors higher, drives the water from them, and rarifies and homogenizes them, rendering them more stable. Thus the evening sun generally is more placid than the early morning sun. The morning sun, especially after a nocturnal rain, emerges from behind the horizon, spreads along it, and then, as it advances, vacillates along its edge in and out so that its edge takes on the appearance of coarse teeth. But if the weather has been most fine for some time, the sun will rise without such unevenness. From this it is certain that the unevenness of the sun must be attributed solely to the medium between it and us.|
Like Rice, Scheiner and Locher also talk about how these same properties of the air cause the twinkling of the stars. Perhaps Scheiner and Locher would cut the 2019 “Lion King” a little more slack than Rice does; hakuna mattata, they might have said, supposing that the 2019 version’s sunrise is occurring after a long period of fine weather! (Indeed, given Locher and Scheiner's remarks about rain and fine weather, could it be that the 2019 version is actually the more correct for a drier climate.) Isn’t it interesting that these two astronomers had this all worked out four centuries ago?
Consider the picture below for your top ten list of “things that you just do not see every day”. Note the houses, the baseball game in the park, and... the observatory. How often do you see a baseball game being played next to an observatory, in a park in a residential neighborhood?
You might see it every summer day if you lived in a certain neighborhood south of downtown Denver (Colorado, USA). This park—called “Observatory Park”—is indeed in a residential neighborhood, and it is the home of Chamberlin Observatory of the University of Denver. The small building in the picture above is Chamberlin’s student observatory. The view below, of the same student observatory but from the opposite direction, shows the main building.
There is not just a baseball diamond near the observatory; behind the main building is a playground. The playground features a bit of astronomy-themed art, which is of course appropriate for Observatory Park. A very stylized solar system, featuring an enormous sun, is molded into the playground’s pavement.
I would prefer a less stylized and more realistically scaled (and thus more educational, in my opinion) solar system for the playground. But would a representation of what the inner solar system actually looks like not be better? Well, perhaps not. Perhaps I should give the artist that designed the park’s sun and planets the benefit of the doubt. It might be that a more realistic solar system would not catch the attention of as many people. A “realistic” solar system would feature a very small sun, and widely spaced orbits, and might look something like the picture below—sort of featureless. After all, the solar system is mostly empty space.
I am never sure of how to strike the balance between attracting people to astronomy with the “cool” factor on one hand, and giving them a true idea of what the universe is like on the other hand. I prefer accuracy. But what good is accuracy if people just walk by and never even notice “accurate” dots and circles on the playground pavement? Perhaps, even in a park that houses an observatory, it is reasonable to sacrifice accuracy for audience.
This issue of sacrificing accuracy for audience brings to mind another bit of Denver art that features some astronomy—some of the large windows in the Denver Cathedral. There are two large windows there that each feature a row of eight saints. These saints are surrounded by stars. That is a bit unusual: as I have mentioned in previous “Astronomy in Art & Architecture” posts, astronomical imagery is rarer than I thought it would be when I first started writing for this blog.
The artist who made these windows did not make any particular effort at being accurate, as you can see from the two photos below. The stars are all sorts of different colors. The skies are all sorts of different colors. The saints in the upper photo all have skies that are blue or black, which is reasonable. But the saints in the lower row all have very stylized skies behind them—with lots of red and green. That’s hardly an accurate representation of the sky.
Then again, the saints themselves are not accurately represented, either. Consider the fellow below, whose stars could be fireflies just as easily as they could be stars. With all the green perhaps you are thinking he is St. Patrick. No, he is St. Augustine.
If the “St. Augustine” label underneath him were not enough, his window also features a child dumping water out of a shell. This refers to a story that St. Augustine was walking along the beach, trying to figure out the nature of God, when he came upon a boy who was running back and forth from the ocean to a hole in the sand, carrying a shell. The boy was scooping water out of the ocean with the shell, and carrying it back to the hole. After watching the boy do this over and over, St. Augustine finally asked him what he was doing. The boy answered, that he was emptying out the ocean into the hole. St. Augustine exclaimed that that was ridiculous—to which the boy replied with something like, “I have a better chance of emptying the ocean into this hole with this shell than you have of grasping my nature with your human mind”. The boy was the child Jesus.
The child Jesus was a Jewish kid in the Middle East. St. Augustine was African, probably of Berber descent—he was “brown”, as is said today. Neither St. Augustine nor the child Jesus would have looked like the man and boy in the window. And certainly St. Augustine did not walk the beach in full bishop regalia, complete with mitre and crozier. The window picture is not intended to be accurate. Accuracy was sacrificed in order to reach an audience, I presume, just like in the park.
Or consider the portrayal of St. Athanasius in the Denver Cathedral windows, shown at right. Sources both older and newer describe Athanasius (of Alexandria, Egypt) as being short of stature, hooked of nose, very dark of skin, short in beard, and likely of Egyptian (as opposed to Greek, I guess) stock. That is not what he looks like in the window. He doesn’t look Greek, either. Again, accuracy was clearly not top of mind to the artist who made the window.
I’d prefer accuracy. I would rather these saints all not be porcelain-faced replicas of one another, all luxuriant in hair or beard, which is always brown or white, and wavy. Not a one of them has so much as dark hair, or curls, let alone a Berber or Egyptian skin coloring. Would a representation of what humanity actually looks like not be better? But then, perhaps I should give the artist that made the windows the benefit of the doubt, too, as in the park. Maybe the artist knew to sacrifice accuracy for audience.
But I’d sure like to see a proper scaling job done somewhere in Observatory Park. And I would sure like to see a proper representation of the starry sky in a stained glass window—where I can even recognize a real constellation! And I’d like to see people in a window who look like real people. But I doubt I am going to persuade many artists in regards to any of this.
Click here for all Astronomy in Art & Architecture posts.
For a nice video on the history of the Denver observatory, click here.
There is a new “Google Doodle” for a scientist today—Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau. You have probably seen it. Google states that his work “led to the birth of cinema”. Well, guess what? According to an old edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, Plateau was “a sincere Christian, faithful to all the duties of a practical Catholic”.
If you are interested in his work, the journal Physics in Perspective published an article on him in 2012: “The Life and Work of Joseph Plateau: Father of Film and Discoverer of Surface Tension”. Click here for an excerpt. Click here to get the entire article from Physics in Perspective. The entire article is also freely available via EBSCO, through many public and academic libraries.
Plateau was born in 1801 and died in 1883. According to Physics in Perspective, “Plateau dedicated himself passionately to the study of ... soap membranes until 1844, when he gradually became blind.” Thus for much of his career Plateau could not see, and yet he produced much science despite this disability. Physics in Perspective writes that, “According to legend, his blindness resulted from the experiment he had carried out in 1829 when he had stared directly into sunlight for about 25 seconds. This probably caused some temporary damage to his eyesight, but it is doubtful that it can account for his blindness ﬁfteen years later.” In fact, his blindness was only one of several difficulties that Physics in Perspective noted that he faced and overcame in his life.
A few quotes regarding Plateau, from various older sources:
Before attaining middle age he lost his eye-sight by rash experiments with the unguarded light of the sun; but in spite of this terrible deprivation he carried on, by the aid of his son and others, long investigations in physiological optics, molecular forces, and the behaviour of thin films, which afford a wonderful proof of the power of intellect to vanquish physical difficulties.
from The History of the Year, 1882-1883
Plateau was remarkable for the extreme delicacy of his experiments, especially those on the superficial tension of liquids. Some years since the beautiful results obtained by him by relieving oily fluids from the influence of gravitation by floating them in liquids of their own specific gravity attracted great attention. Plateau's researches in physiological optics were of the most refined character. They cost him his eyesight; but, notwithstanding this melancholy deprivation, he never abandoned his inquiries, substituting for his own eyes the eyes of a qualified assistant
from The Athenaeum, Sept. 29, 1883
In the course of these researches he once kept his naked eye fixed on the sun for twenty-five seconds, and this imprudence brought on a choroid inflammation which, in 1843, resulted in total blindness. Being obliged to give up teaching, he nevertheless continued his experimental work with admirable courage and marvellous success, helped by his elder son, Félix Plateau, the naturalist, his son-in-law, Van der Mensbruyghe, the physicist (1835-1911), and some friends and colleagues in the University of Ghent. To this period belong almost all his famous researches on the statics of liquids freed from pressure, on surface tension, and on the properties of thin liquid plates. After 1844 Joseph Plateau had no laboratory but his study in his own modest home. He himself planned all the experiments and arranged all the details in advance. His assistants would announce in a loud voice everything they were doing, all that they observed, and the results of each process. Joseph Plateau would then dictate the notes and, later on, the text of the memoirs for publication. In this way he worked until he was upwards of eighty. Joseph Plateau was a sincere Christian, faithful to all the duties of a practical Catholic.
from the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1914
This post is just something I quickly put together based on a very little bit of research. If you like this little post, and you like how it is a completely different perspective from anything else you would have found when you clicked that Google Doodle, then consider clicking right here and supporting the outfit that makes this possible—the Vatican Observatory Foundation. The VOF is the outfit that keeps the Vatican’s U.S. telescope (on Mount Graham in Arizona) running. That’s why this blog exists—to keep that telescope doing science. Support the blog—support the telescope—support science.
Tonight I have a public program at my college’s observatory, which is located in a park in rural Indiana called South Harrison Park. When putting together a schedule for the observatory, I try to find especially cool stuff around which to build programs. Flyovers of the International Space Station (ISS) are always cool. A night with a moon, planets, and an ISS flyover are great. Thus, the night of October 12 seemed perfect for a program, because a quick look at the sky for that night using the Stellarium planetarium app shows the ISS passing through the evening sky, coming quite close to Saturn at 7:27 PM Eastern Time.
But the above is the view Stellarium gives of the ISS from “Louisville, Kentucky”, latitude N 38° 15' 15.26", longitude W 85° 45' 33.87". The ISS is not very high above Earth—roughly 250 miles. That may seem like a lot, but it is not so much that a change of position of a couple dozen miles on Earth would not have an effect. Where will the ISS be at the same moment, as seen not from “Louisville”, but from South Harrison Observatory, to the south and west of Louisville? (And for those of you who are thinking “isn’t Indiana north of Kentucky—yes, it is, but not everywhere!) A quick look at Google Maps gives the coordinates of the Observatory: 38.070923° N, 86.016440° W.
Let’s plug those observatory coordinates back into Stellarium, and see how the view changes. The result is noticeable:
If shifting position by a couple dozen miles changes the view, the next question is, what would our location have to be in order for us to see the ISS pass right by Saturn? That location can be determined by dialing the latitude and longitude coordinates in Stellarium back and forth until the ISS sits right on top of Saturn:
The coordinates for seeing this are, according to Stellarium, N 37° 52' 7.32", W 85° 44' 8.18" (note that Google Maps likes decimal degree values of latitude and longitude, whereas Stellarium likes minutes and seconds). Plugging this back into Google Maps reveals that this location is in a pond in Bullitt County, Kentucky:
Zooming out further shows the location relative to South Harrison Observatory (gold cross, below) and Louisville:
Now suppose I wanted to see this directly. The road nearest to this location is almost a private drive, serving only a couple of houses; chances are I might not be welcome were I to show up along it in the evening, and hop out of the car to view the ISS. However, a nearby road, Collings Hill Road (gold crosses, below), is clearly a public road, serving many houses.
I might find a nice place, not too close to any house to disturb anyone, to pull off onto the shoulder and watch the ISS. I might even find a safe place to set up a small telescope, and even see the ISS zip through the field of view. The image below shows Stellarium’s simulated view of this event (as seen from the pond location). Note how Stellarium does not show the ISS, just a big dot representing the station, which will be far brighter than Saturn will be.
Of course this all hinges on the accuracy of both Stellarium and Google Maps. If either is off in its latitude and longitude figures, then the ISS will not cross Saturn as seen from Collings Hill Road near that pond. And of course I won’t be on Collings Hill Road, because I will be doing the program at South Harrison Observatory tonight.
However, this is a thing that anyone could try. If you know your way around Stellarium and maps, I encourage you to give it a try, and, if you are a member of the blog (click here to join and support), maybe report here how it worked out for you.
Visit the Vatican Observatory Faith and Science pages and you might come upon information about Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717), who saw the hand of God in things that make many people’s skin crawl. In an introduction to one of her books she writes,
Ever since my youth I have been engaged in the examination of insects. I began with silkworms in my native city of Frankfurt, but then, noticing that much more beautiful butterflies, both nocturnal and diurnal, emerged from caterpillars, I was moved to gather together all the caterpillars I could find and to make observations of their metamorphoses. For this reason I set aside my social life and devoted all my time to these observations and to improving my abilities in the art of painting, so that I could both draw individual specimens and paint them in lively colors.
No doubt Merian stood out in her world! She had two daughters who she sometimes recruited to assist her. No doubt they had some things to say about their mother’s passion for bugs! But to Merian, these creatures, and especially the transformations of caterpillars into moths or butterflies, were regular miracles:
These wondrous transformations have happened so many times that one is full of praise for God’s mysterious power and his wonderful attention to such insignificant little creatures and unworthy flying things.... Thus I am moved to present God’s miracles such as these to the world in a little book.
Merian could present these miracles well. She was a talented artist as well as a keen and devoted observer, as two samples of her work shown above clearly show.
Click here for the Merian entries from the V.O. Faith and Science pages.
Another scientist who talked about small or creepy things in terms of God’s work was Robert Hooke (1635-1703). Hooke was a multi-talented, multi-faceted scientist. He studied subjects ranging from the physiology of respiration, to gravity and the mechanics of the solar system, to the elasticity of materials (anyone who has had a physics class probably recalls “Hooke’s Law” regarding elastic material), to the nature of fossils, to clock-making, to microscopy. One of Hooke’s greatest works was his spectacular 1665 book on microscopy, Micrographia, which is every bit as cool as Merian’s works.
In Micrographia, the reading public could see pictures of the microscopic world for the first time. Hooke introduced the use of the word “cell” in Micrographia—a word learned today by microscope-wielding students in biology classes everywhere. Until Hooke’s work, the cellular structure of living things was unknown. Micrographia was lavishly illustrated with pictures, fun and educational to look at—a book of science that everyone could enjoy. And, in Micrographia Hooke describes the microscopic world as revealing the omnipotence and creativity of God.
In discussing the point of a needle as seen through the microscope, Hooke writes:
The Point of a Needle is made so sharp, that the naked eye cannot distinguish any parts of it: It very easily pierces, and makes its way through all kind of bodies softer then it self: But if view’d with a very good Microscope, we may find that the top of a Needle (though as to the sense very sharp) appears a broad, blunt, and very irregular end.
Now though this point be commonly accounted the sharpest (whence when we would express the sharpness of a point the most superlatively, we say, as sharp as a needle) yet the Microscope can afford us hundreds of instances of points many thousand times sharper: such as those of the hairs, and bristles, and claws of multitudes of Insects; the thorns, or crooks, or hairs of leaves, and other small vegetables…
In the case of man-made needles the more we see of their shape, the less appearance will there be of their beauty: whereas in the works of Nature, the deepest Discoveries shew us the greatest Excellencies. An evident Argument, that he that was the Author of all these things, was no other then Omnipotent; being able to include as great a variety of parts and contrivances in the yet smallest Discernable Point, as in those vaster bodies (which comparatively are called also Points) such as the Earth, Sun, or Planets.
Likewise, in discussing an insect, Hooke writes:
Its belly was large, as it is usually in all Insects, and extended into nine lengths or partitions, each of which was cover’d with round armed rings or shells; six of which, [labelled O, P, Q, R, S, and T in the figure below] were transparent, and divers kinds of Peristaltick motions might be very easily perceiv’d, whil’st the Animal was alive, but especially a small cleer white part [labelled V], seemed to beat like the heart of a larger Animal. The last three divisios, [labelled W, X, Y], were cover’d with black and opacous shells. To conclude, take this creature altogether, and for beauty and curious contrivances, it may be compared with the largest Animal upon the Earth. Nor doth the Alwise Creator seem to have shewn less care and providence in the fabrick of it, then in those which seem most considerable.
And in discussing the many eyes of a fly, he writes (referencing 2 Peter 3:8):
…I think we need not doubt, but that there may be as much curiosity of contrivance and structure in every one of these Pearls that make up a fly’s eye, as in the eye of a Whale or Elephant, and the almighty’s Fiat could as easily cause the existence of the one as the other; and as one day and a thousand years are the same with him, so may one eye and ten thousand.
And thus we see that some people find caterpillars and bug eyes creepy, but some scientists look at them and see the marvels of God’s work.
I once thought that the Copernican Revolution was about the modern scientific view of the universe displacing the old Earth-centered view. Consider Neil deGrasse Tyson’s 2014 re-make of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” TV series, with its animated sequence about Giordano Bruno being condemned and burned by church officials for advocating that the stars were other suns, orbited by other worlds (if you have not seen the Bruno sequence, click here to watch it, and go to about the 16 minute mark). This event has made Bruno a martyr to science in the eyes of some, since of course today science shows us that the stars are indeed other suns, orbited by other worlds. Cosmos’s portrayal of Bruno has numerous flaws, not least of which is portraying Bruno’s opponents as a bunch of ugly orcs, but Cosmos got the basics right—Bruno and the modern scientific view against the old view.
Or did it? It turns out that, if you were a good scientist in Bruno’s time, you would never have believed that the stars were other suns. Simple observation proved otherwise. If you were a supporter of Copernicus, you believed that the sun was the unique central body of the universe, and the stars were not suns. That was the belief of Johannes Kepler, arguably the most prominent Copernican scientist prior to Isaac Newton. And to Kepler, it wasn’t a belief, but a fact—obvious to any Copernican who could perform simple measurements and engage in critical thinking.
Kepler’s thinking was as follows:
In in a Copernican universe the Earth orbits the sun, moving relative to the stars. Thus certain stars should, for example, grow brighter and then fainter as seen from Earth as Earth moves toward them and then away from them as it orbits. But no such “annual parallax” effect is detected. The lack of parallax is explained by the stars being so distant that Earth’s orbit is like a point in comparison—utterly imperceptible. However, astronomers since Ptolemy in ancient times had shown that stars in the sky have perceptible apparent sizes, as illustrated in the figure below.
Since the stars have measurable apparent sizes, then in a Copernican universe they have to be enormous in terms of their actual physical sizes. This is because, as the figure below shows, the farther away something of a given apparent size is, the larger its actual size must be. And in a Copernican universe, the stars have to be very far away.
Early telescopes revealed that the apparent sizes of stars might not be as large as astronomers had determined with non-telescopic instruments, but they revealed apparent sizes nonetheless, and they increased the sensitivity to parallax. The net result was still enormous stars. Kepler estimated the star Sirius, the brightest star visible to the eye, to be larger than the orbit of Saturn. Lesser stars were proportionately smaller, but still dwarfed the sun.
Kepler noted that since there are so many stars (especially when you add in all the stars visible with a telescope), the total area of the sky that they occupy must be a significant fraction of the area occupied by the disk of the sun. However, their combined power of illumination is obviously insignificant compared to the sun. Therefore, he said, although the stars must be vast in bulk, they also must be dim.
Thus, said Kepler, science shows that the universe consists of one tiny-but-brilliant sun, orbited by still-tinier planets. This little solar system is then surrounded by giant-but-dim stars. The stars might be on a spherical shell, or they might be scattered out to some indefinite distance (the problem with the latter case being that, the farther away the stars were, the bigger they had to be, as seen previously). To Kepler, the fact that the sun was small, the planets smaller, and human being smaller still, was no big deal. He described all this almost poetically in his 1604 book De Stella Nova:
Where magnitude waxes, there perfection wanes, and nobility follows diminution in bulk. The sphere of the fixed stars according to Copernicus is certainly most large; but it is inert, no motion. The universe of the movables [the planets] is next. Now this—so much smaller, so much more divine—has accepted that so admirable, so well-ordered motion. Nevertheless, that place neither contains animating faculty, nor does it reason, nor does it run about. It goes, provided that it is moved. It has not developed, but it retains that impressed to it from the beginning. What it is not, it will never be. What it is, is not made by it—the same endures, as was built. Then comes this our little ball, the little cottage of us all, which we call the Earth: the womb of the growing, herself fashioned by a certain internal faculty. The architect of marvelous work, she kindles daily so many little living things from herself—plants, fishes, insects—as she easily may scorn the rest of the bulk in view of this her nobility. Lastly behold if you will the little bodies which we call the animals. What smaller than these is able to be imagined in comparison to the universe? But there now behold feeling, and voluntary motions—an infinite architecture of bodies. Behold if you will, among those, these fine bits of dust, which are called Men; to whom the Creator has granted such, that in a certain way they may beget themselves, clothe themselves, arm themselves, teach themselves an infinity of arts, and daily accomplish the good; in whom is the image of God; who are, in a certain way, lords of the whole bulk. And what is it to us, that the body of the universe has for itself a great breadth, while the soul lacks for one? We may learn well therefore the pleasure of the Creator, who is author both of the roughness of the large masses, and of the perfection of the smalls. Yet he glories not in bulk, but ennobles those that he has wished to be small.
In the end, through these intervals from Earth to the Sun, from Sun to Saturn, from Saturn to the fixed stars, we may learn gradually to ascend toward recognizing the immensity of divine power.
Anyone who could observe the stars, and do basic math, had to agree with Kepler that the stars were giant and dim in a Copernican universe, and the sun and its planets were unique bodies. A universe of sun-like stars, on the other hand, was the invention of those who didn’t do science carefully enough. Kepler said that such a universe was the invention of crazy philosophers, who broke out of their asylum and went running around exulting in the immensity they have imagined—crazies like Bruno. Kepler names Bruno, and uses the giant stars to thoroughly demolish Bruno’s ideas about a universe of other suns.
Of course today Bruno looks like he knew something, because today we understand that stars are not all giant and dim. They are, more or less, suns. In fact, as best we can tell, most stars are actually smaller than the sun (as we saw in my post from two weeks ago), but some are much larger.
The flaw in Kepler’s argument was that the apparent sizes of stars, whether measured via the naked eye or via an early telescope, were false. Those apparent sizes were an artefact of optics and of the wave nature of light. That artefact, called diffraction, made the stars look far larger than they were. But no one knew about light waves and diffraction in Bruno’s and Kepler’s time. Decades would pass before astronomers would begin to obtain evidence suggesting that apparent star sizes were false.
In the mean time, opponents of the Copernican theory argued that the giant stars business was absurd. Consider Kepler’s estimate of Sirius being larger than the orbit of Saturn. In the Earth-centered view, the orbit of Saturn was almost to the edge of the universe—so one single star in the Copernican theory was as large as an entire universe in the Earth-centered theory. Copernicus’s opponents also thought the tendency of Copernicans to invoke divine power in regards to the giant stars (as Kepler did above, and as others did in more dramatic fashion) was equally absurd. It just made more sense for the Earth to be immobile at the center of the universe, so there would be no parallax issue. The stars then did not have to be so far away, and did not have to be so large. They could be about the same size as the larger planets. The Earth-centered system created by Tycho Brahe, the astronomer who employed Kepler for a while, had planets orbiting the sun while the sun orbited the Earth. Brahe’s Earth-centered system was fully compatible with telescopic discoveries that showed Venus or Jupiter to orbit the sun.
Thus in the Copernican Revolution there was no modern scientific view of the universe displacing the old Earth-centered view. The argument in the early seventeenth century was the Earth-centered universe of Brahe on one hand, vs. the sun-centered giant-stars universe of Kepler on the other. Those two options were what observations and calculations allowed. They were the options that science supported. They were also both wrong, in that they both differed wildly from our modern view that says the stars are other suns.
So what does this wrongness mean for how we view the Copernican Revolution? Does it matter that Bruno’s seemingly modern view was clearly false to anyone at the time who could look up and apply geometry? Is Bruno still a martyr to science if the idea for which he was killed was contrary to the then-available scientific evidence? Or is he just another guy among many who were brutally executed for reasons that would not merit execution today? At any rate, it would seem that the Copernican Revolution was not about the modern scientific view of the universe displacing the old Earth-centered view. Scientific support for the modern view came much later.
If you are asking yourself why you never heard any of this before, well, that is because this post is the product of recent research. If you want the full story, check out “The Starry Universe of Johannes Kepler” (click here for it), by yours truly, published this year in the Journal for the History of Astronomy. You will need access to the journal through your library. However, if you subscribe to this blog, you can contact me directly (contact information only appears for readers who are paid-up members of Sacred Space, and logged in as such) , and I can send you an “off-print” of the paper. Also, an early version of the paper (not peer-reviewed) is freely available via the Cornell University ArXiv pre-print server—click here for it.
This is a "re-run" of a post that originally ran in March. At that time it was a "members only" post.
Today marks one year since Nature published its article on Galileo's letter,
so I am re-running the post "open to all".
In January I ran a post here at The Catholic Astronomer about the newly-discovered letter that Galileo wrote and (according to the journal Nature) lied about—click here for that post. The Nature articles concerning Galileo’s letter were “news” or “opinion” articles, written by Nature’s editors and correspondents. They were not research papers written by the scholars who found the letter: Michele Camerota of the Università degli Studi di Cagliari, and Franco Giudice and Salvatore Ricciardo of Università degli Studi di Bergamo. Now a scholarly, peer-reviewed paper, written by those scholars regarding the letter, has been published, and so I thought I’d follow up with a little analysis.
The paper, titled “The reappearance of Galileo's original Letter to Benedetto Castelli”, appears in the February 6, 2019 issue (volume 73, issue 1) of Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science. It is available on-line, and is written in a readable manner, so all who are interested can read it for themselves—just click here.
I know little about handwriting analysis, but Camerota, Giudice, and Ricciardo certainly convinced me that the newly-discovered letter was indeed written by Galileo. A comparison between the date written in the newly-discovered letter, and the dates written in other letters that Galileo wrote, was enough to do that. (The various samples of Galileo’s handwriting that Camerota, Giudice, and Ricciardo provide are also enough to convince me that handwriting was not a highly-valued skill in Italy in the early seventeenth century.) And one of the things that I find most interesting about the paper is that Camerota, Giudice, and Ricciardo report that the wording of the handwritten letter “corresponds exactly to the text sent by [Dominican friar Nicolò] Lorini to Cardinal Sfondrati in Rome” in 1615, and that the Vatican still has today.
But I also have a complaint about the paper. I think it conveys one certain impression that is not accurate. Camerota, Giudice, and Ricciardo talk about Galileo’s “intricate relations with the Roman Catholic Church in these years”, and mention theologians and Aristotelian philosophers. But Galileo wrote this letter to address issues raised by Christina of Lorraine, the mother of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Galileo states this explicitly in the letter (click here for a translation of the version of the letter as later altered by Galileo). Yes, some figures within the Church had been looking to cause trouble for Galileo regarding his views on astronomy—Lorini had accosted Galileo in November of 1612, and a year before that a friend had written to Galileo warning him that a group was meeting at the home of the archbishop of Florence and plotting against him—so Christina’s issues no doubt echoed the thoughts of others. But it seems to me that the fact that Galileo wrote this letter in response to ideas expressed by the Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine ought to show up somewhere in all that has been written about this letter.
It ought to show up because it is worthwhile to convey correct information. And, it seems to me also worthwhile to know that a powerful and intelligent woman, whose opinion obviously carried weight with Galileo, played a role in all this. She—not some bishop or cardinal, nor some Jesuit scholar, nor some Dominican preacher—was the one who got Galileo’s dander up and prompted him to say stuff that he obviously came to regret saying (and then tried to hide by altering his letter). But so far I have seen no mention of the Grand Duchess in any of the discussions, either in the Notes and Records paper or in Nature or in the various articles written as spin-offs from Nature’s report of the newly-discovered letter. From what has been written about it, you might think that Galileo wrote the letter in response to someone in the official apparatus of the Church.
If you find the above images interesting, seek out a full copy of the paper (a university library is your best bet).
This post originally ran in the summer of 2017.
I'm re-running it in advance of a post that will appear in two weeks that will talk about
Johannes Kepler’s ideas about the nature of stars.
The table at right* shows the distance to and luminosity of the twenty stars closest to our solar system. Distance is measured in light years (meaning that if a star is 10 light years from Earth, then it would require 10 years to reach that star, travelling at the speed of light). Luminosity, or power output, is given in terms of the Sun’s output (so a star with the same power output as our Sun would have a luminosity of 1). The stars in this table are the solar system’s twenty nearest neighbors.
Notice what a wimpy lot our neighbors are. Yes, there are some respectable stars among the bunch—obviously Sirius A, with 22 times (22x) the Sun’s power output, is a serious*~ star. Sirius is the “Dog Star” in the constellation Canis Major, and the brightest star in the night sky. It appears bright to us both because it is very close and because it is quite powerful. Procyon, the “Little Dog”, weighing in with over 7x the Sun’s luminosity, is another respectable star. And then there are the stars of Rigil Kentaurus (“Alpha Centauri”), which are very comparable to the Sun. There is also Epsilon Eridani (a barely-visible star in the barely-visible constellation Eridanus, the River) with a bit more than a quarter the Sun’s power, and then...
...and then there are a bunch of lousy excuses for stars! The star Wolf 359 (Star Trek fans will know this as the site of a battle in which a single Borg ship destroyed an entire fleet of Federation star ships) puts out power equal to 0.000019 Suns. The Sun is 53,000 times more powerful than Wolf 359. The Sun is 105,000 times more powerful than Gliese 866 Ab. These stars are not the brightest bulbs in in the proverbial box!
In fact, of the 100 nearest stars,* only four are more powerful than the Sun—Sirius, Procyon, Rigil, and Altair in the constellation Aquila (the Eagle). And only 11 of the nearest 100 are more powerful than Epsilon Eridani. And only 22 have at least 1% of the Sun’s luminosity. That’s right, 78 of the 100 nearest stars can’t muster 1/100th of the Sun’s power output. All 78 of them together would not equal the Sun. In fact, as many of them are like Wolf 359 (perhaps better named “Chihuahua 359”—“Wolf” being too strong a name), all 78 would not come close to equaling the Sun.
The universe seems to be full of low-power stars. The general name given to such stars is “red dwarfs”—“dwarfs” for obvious reasons, “red” because they are not very hot and glow with a dull red color. You will often hear that the vast majority of all stars are red dwarfs.
Yet not a single star that you see in the night sky is a red dwarf. Of the 100 nearest stars, about 15 are visible to keen unaided eyes under very dark, non-light-polluted skies.~* Every single one of those “naked eye” nearest neighbor stars puts out more than 1% of the Sun’s power. Thus every single star that you see with your unaided eye—even the faintest star you might see under pristine, dark skies—would rank among the most luminous 22 of our neighboring stars.
In other words, when you look up at the night sky, you do not see the “average Joes” and “average Janes” of the stars. You see only a select group of stars—the rich and the powerful, the best and the brightest. That’s something to consider: the stars we see are not at all representative of what the vast majority of stars really are. The universe as a whole is not really that much like the stuff we see with our eyes.
This would have surprised many astronomers from the past few centuries. After Copernicus’s heliocentric theory became widely accepted, astronomers tended to assume that what we see is representative of the universe as a whole. For example, as noted in a recent post, Galileo regularly assumed that the stars were just like the sun, and his view was not uncommon. And, as noted in another post from a while back, astronomers also commonly assumed that other planets would be just like Earth. Thus you will find in astronomy books from the past few centuries illustrations showing the universe being full of innumerable star systems like our solar system.But as we astronomers have learned more about the stars, we have found that there is great diversity among them. Some stars have been found to be far larger and more powerful than the Sun. The star Rigel, which shines prominently in the constellation Orion, is so powerful that the Sun compared to it is like Wolf 359 compared to the Sun. Seen from Earth, Rigel and Procyon appear to be comparable stars. But that is only because Procyon about 80 times closer than Rigel. Now powerful modern telescopes have shown astronomers that the Rigels are vastly, vastly outnumbered by these red dwarf stars that are much smaller and weaker than the Sun. We now understand that the “typical star” is not much like the Sun. Nor is the typical star much like the stars we see in the night sky such as Procyon, Sirius, and Rigel. The “typical star” is a red dwarf. Just as astronomers in the past learned that planets are diverse, and not all like Earth, astronomers today are learning that stars are diverse, and not all like the Sun.
And, when we consider that astronomers today believe that the universe as a whole consists primarily of “dark matter” and “dark energy”—things that we cannot even find on Earth at all—we understand that neither our planet, nor our Sun, nor even our very matter and substance, is particularly representative of the universe as a whole. It’s a strange universe out there. It is not at all like that endless procession of Sun-like systems that astronomers envisioned not so long ago.
*All data on nearby stars are from Celestia, version 1.6.1.
*~Pun absolutely intended.
~*That is sixth magnitude or brighter (for those familiar with the magnitude system).
I saw the new “Lion King” movie last month. Whether you think it is a good movie or a bad movie, you would have to agree that it is an impressive bit of computer animation. The artists at Disney worked hard to get so many details so realistic. As I watched the movie, I could almost believe that animals can talk.
So why did Disney put so little realism into the sky? As an astro-nerd, I found myself scoffing and sneering at pretty much every sky scene. For example, I think in one shot the sun rose straight up, as though Pride Rock was close to the equator (which makes sense). But then in another scene, the sun rose at a noticeable angle—up and to the right, as though the location were significantly further north. And I did not recognize any constellations among the stars in the movie sky.
I can’t be sure about those two things. I do not have a photographic memory. I might not have been looking close enough in the case of the constellations. And I did not pirate/record the film while in the theater, so I can’t double check! However, the worst sky thing in the “Lion King” was something I can be sure of. This worst thing was how the film showed oodles of stars coming out against a dark sky while another part of the sky was still light. It even had stars coming out against a light sky. I can be sure about this, because I found a clip of this on the web, and grabbed a screen shot. See? Zoom in if you need to.
Take a look under the limbs of the tree especially, where the sky is golden in color but oodles of faint stars appear nonetheless. This is utterly absurd. The sky never looks anything like this. Isn’t it strange how this movie, that features such realistic-looking animals on such a realistic-looking Earth, has such an unrealistic-looking sky?
Of course, maybe I just noticed the unrealistic sky because I am an astronomer. Maybe zoologists would say that the animals in the “Lion King” are no more realistic than the sky. Maybe botanists would say the same thing about the plants in the movie. Maybe hydrologists would say the same thing about the waterfalls and flowing streams. Maybe, if you had enough nerds watching the movie, you would learn that the computer animation is not so impressive after all.
But the lion cubs sure looked realistically cute and furry to me! And the sky did not look realistic at all.
There is new thing on the Vatican Observatory Faith and Science archive! We have added a new section—“Religious Scientists”. We mean “religious scientists” in a broad sense: scientists who are people of faith, believers in God.
There are two parts to this new section. The first part is a listing of different scientists whose work is featured in the archive. For each scientist, there is a link that takes you to the different entries in the archive related to that scientist. Some of the scientists in the listing are well-known—Isaac Newton, for example. Others are not so well known—William F. Rigge, S.J., for example.
The second part is a simple listing of religious scientists. Information about each scientist is limited. However, the second part includes many more scientists compared to the first part.
It is important to understand that both parts are listings of religious scientists, not saintly scientists. Scientists are not always saintly. Scientists are also often independent-minded and confident of their own views, so sometimes even very faith-filled scientists will find themselves at odds with their fellow believers. Isaac Newton is one such example. He is arguably the greatest of all scientists, but he actually wrote more on religion that he wrote on science. His faith was deep. But he tended to keep his religious ideas to himself, as his own ideas about the nature of the Trinity were unorthodox, and definitely not in line with his fellow Anglicans. And, of course, he was prone to thinking that his ideas were right!
Of course I find all the work on of the Vatican Observatory and Vatican Observatory Foundation interesting and valuable, but I take particular interest in material like the “Religious Scientists” section. This is because of my work in a community college, where I deal with students from so many different backgrounds. I have discussed in this blog the problem of reaching religious students who come into a science class very wary of science, owing to what they have heard about science being opposed to their faith. This wariness is a barrier to their learning science. But at the same time, these same students have a great potential to learn and contribute: their wariness arises from the fact that they actually care about what they are learning (as opposed to the many, many students who simply take a science class because “it is required”, and who care little about science at all); but unlike the other group of students who care and have great potential to learn and contribute (namely, those students who really love science), these wary students have a skepticism of science that prompts them to ask the best, most probing questions. And what does a great job of breaking down the barrier and dissolving the whole “science-religion” mythology, whether it be for my students or maybe for someone reading this blog post? Scientists who were religious believers themselves!
So click here for the Vatican Observatory Faith and Science archive, and then click on “Religious Scientists”, and enjoy. The “Religious Scientists” section has a heavy focus on Catholic scientists, obviously, but you will find plenty of non-Catholic Christian scientists as well, and some who are Muslim or Jewish.