As I write this post, we are only minutes away from the transit of Mercury across the Sun (click this link from EarthSky for a little more information). It was my hope to do my first LiveStream on Sacred Space Astronomy, talking with you live about the transit from my rectory office, showing real time video from my small h-alpha telescope, and give you a presentation about the connection between this transit and the Catholic Priest, Pierre Gassendi. The reason I didn't promote this little event was because Wisconsin is notorious for cloud cover at this time of year. And, as fate may have it, even though the Weather Channel claims the skies over my house are clear - It's cloudy.
Nevertheless, Sacred Space Astronomy has wonderful resources about Pierre Gassendi. Christopher Graney wrote a marvelous post about the rare books collection at the University of Louisville that includes Pierre Gassendi’s work, Institutio Astronomica juxta Hypotheses tam Veterum quàm Recentiorum. It was penned by Gassendi to be an introduction to science. I wrote a post on Gassendi the last time there was a transit of Mercury focused on how Gassendi was the first person to record the data of the transit. Click here to take a peak on my past reflection on Gassendi. Though Gassendi's observation may not hold the historical significance of Monsignor Georges Lemaitre's "Cosmic Egg," later dubbed The Big Bang, it is a reminder that Catholicism has had a history of engagement in the sciences, especially astronomy.
Below are two videos. The first is Christopher Graney discussing the rare books library I mentioned earlier and provides some insight into Gassendi along with other Catholic Priest scientists. The second is a YouTube live stream of the transit of Mercury from NASA TV. You can also take a look at real time images of the transit and construct your own "movie" from these images by clicking this link to NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory. You can also see NASA's SDO real time solar images by clicking on this link for The Sun Now. If the clouds clear, I might jump online later this morning, but, if not, enjoy these resources and have a wonderful Monday!
Live Stream of Mercury Transit
It's my birthday this week. As more moons pass in my life, I feel less and less like celebrating this day. However, since my mother, brother and I have our birthdays three days apart from each other, I went home for a modest birthday party with family.
After a nice dinner, time to catch up with my family, and a "geek-out" session with my nephew about his honors Jazz concert, I walked outside and saw pristine skies! Autumn in Wisconsin can be very cruel to a hobby astronomer. The lower humidity teases the possibility of clearer skies for observation, free of the distortion of August's moisture. The drawback is that the transition from summer to autumn to winter means many cloudy days - and I mean many! That being said, when you get those rare nights when the skies clear, the viewing is clear and crisp!
Last night was a beautiful night for stargazing in central Wisconsin! Not only did I decide to set up my camera for some star photography, but I also broke out a simple, wind-up clock tracker that is designed to help my camera follow the movement of the night sky. The results were stunning! Below is a six image panorama stack of the Milky Way. Each image is a fifteen second exposure at ISO 1250 f/2.8.
To the left of the image is my parents house where I grew up and to the right is the horizon of our cow pasture. On the horizon to the right, you can see a really bright light peaking through a tree. That bright light is the bell tower of my home parish, St. Maximillian Kolbe. When I stitched this image together, the title of the image became clear, "Coming Home." Whether it be the house I grew up in, the spiritual house where I found my faith in God, or our galactic home, this image encompasses who I am as a child of God. I so like this picture that I think I'm going to enter it into a photo competition!
The rest of the night was both joyful, but also a little frustrating. I tried my first six minute tracked exposure of the Milky Way and my clock tracker worked like a dream! Too bad I forgot to lower my ISO from 1250... darn! Thankfully, I was still was able to pull back a nice image with some creative editing. I also broke out my fisheye lens, thinking I would do some neat distorted images of the farm. Right after setting things up, clouds rolled in... foiled again! Still, a clear night of imaging stars, even if it only be for a couple hours, was a gift indeed!
Autumn can be a powerful time of reflection about life, transition, change, death, and what comes after the winter snows of our Earthly journey's end. As I stood in my parents backyard, I was able to see how I have changed, grown, and developed. I also reflected on how, despite the change, I still remain fundamentally James Kurzynski from central Wisconsin. It was a powerful moment of trying to better understand who I am, who God is in my life, and who God made me to be.
Spiritual Exercise: How have you grown this past year? What transition is God placing in your life? How can the changing of the seasons (if you live somewhere that has season changes) be seen as a metaphor for change in your life? How do you want to change? How do you need to change? Pray with these questions, get out and enjoy some clear skies, and, together, let us know thyself better through the wonderment and beauty of God's creation.
Do you enjoy the endless wonder of God's handiwork that is your backyard? Whether your backyard is a back forty or forty feet of enclosed concrete, I assure you there is something worth discovering just outside your door. Some may dismiss this idealistic, romantic notion as merely the whimsical musings of an aloof theologian priest who tries way too hard to see God in all things. Others may want to believe that signs of God's handiwork can be this close to them, but hesitate due to years of feeling estranged from the divine. And those who daily practice divine attentiveness might simply smile at my question and affirm, "Of course I live in wonder!"
I can see all three responses to the question of wonderment present in my life and ministry. When I'm at my best, I find a deep connection with God that allows me to see every moment as an encounter with the Lord. There are times, sadly, when work consumes me, placing my mind and heart in a "get it done" mentality, sacrificing my time with the Lord in favor of worshiping the false god of productivity. It is then when I can feel a disconnect between the work I do as a priest and the God who called me to this blessed ministry. If not addressed, this disconnect can bleed into bitterness to the point of questioning the backyard mysticism I have asked you to reflect upon. At these moments, I find it helpful to slow down, take a deep breath, and do something that pulls my mind and heart away from the workaholic life. For example, watching the birds that visit my backyard feeder as they fight with one another over seeds.
For those of us who live in areas of the world that are experiencing the beauty of autumn leaves, slowing down and detaching from the "productivity machine" may be going to a local park with a pair of binoculars and be taken by the endless beauty that a few trees can provide - Even in a light rain that forces us to observe from the dry safety of a pavilion.
And when frustration runs deep and it seems as though I can't see God present in my life, I can take out my camera, even in the light pollution of the city of Eau Claire, and be reminded that just as my physical eyes are hindered by many things that prevent me from seeing the night sky in its full beauty, so, too, is my very being hindered from seeing the full presence of God in the world around me. Just as beginner astrophotography is teaching me how to "change the way my camera sees" to make more stars visible, so, too, do I need to change the way I approach priesthood to detach from the noise and heart of productivity that can alienate me from God.
In order to see with the eyes of faith, we need to slow down, take time, and be attentive to prayer and God's presence in the world. So, too, does embracing a heart of backyard wonderment call us to slow down, take time, and be attentive to the beauty creation presents to us. This reflection on backyard attentiveness reminds me of the short fairytale by G.K. Chesterton called Tremendous Trifles. I have referenced this short work before, but as a refresher, it's the story of two young boys who are given a wish by a passerby. One asks to become a giant so he can see all the wonders of the world in a single day. Sadly, being out of proportion to the world he lives, he becomes bored, ceasing to see the wonderment of God's creation to the point of his demise. The other boy seeks to be made tiny, only a couple inches tall. This request brings him great joy, spending an eternity of wonderment at the blades of grass in the backyard.
This tension is at the heart of all of our spiritual lives, is it not? We experience the temptation to see the world with the eyes of the giant, out of proportion with creation, and try to dominate the natural world we live in. It is those moments when we need to make ourselves small, humble, and realize that the place that God asks us to embrace in this world is well summarized in the words of Carl Sagan, "A mote of dust on a sunbeam." The great saint of The Little Way, St. Therese of Lisieux, shared this disposition of heart. Here is a quote from this small Doctor of the Church that fits nicely with this reflection on backyard holiness.
Jesus has been gracious enough to teach me a lesson about the mystery of the differences in souls, simply by holding up to my eyes, the book of nature. I understood how all the flowers God created are beautiful - how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away from the perfume of the violet or the simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wildflower.
And so it is in the world of souls… Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but he created small ones as well… and theses must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances, when he looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing God’s will… in being what He would have us be. (Quote from St. Therese was taken from the Society of Little Flower homepage.)
Spiritual Exercise: Spend some time in backyard wonderment today. Be attentive to the simplicity of beauty that surrounds you - a beauty that, perhaps, you have become desensitized too. If you live in a concrete jungle and find this exercise difficult to complete, go to a local park or someplace that contains the beauty of nature. Slow down, remove yourself from the trappings of mere productivity, and revel in the wonderment of God's handwork - a handwork that includes the wonder that is you.
As you well know, I have made the commitment to become good at night and star photography. It has been a fun journey that is feeding my artistic, scientific, and faith interests. As I have been sharing images on social media, good friends have invited me to do some imaging on their property. Not only has this created some beautiful images, but has given me an idea for a fall/winter set of reflections titled - From The Back Yard.
When looking at the upcoming star charts and the beautiful changes that have begun this Fall, I will be offering faith reflections supported by images I take locally. These reflections will draw upon my interests in astronomy and care for creation. As an open invitation, I would ask you, the readers of Sacred Space Astronomy, to suggest topics you would like me to not only reflect upon, but image as well. I would simply ask that they fit between the themes of astronomy and care fore creation.
Below are some images of star photography I did at the Geisert Farm in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. It was a beautiful night of imaging and friendship. The nature images without stars are from my parent's farm in Central Wisconsin. These images have sparked some future ideas for pieces on care for creation.
Enjoy! Leave your suggestions in the comments below. I look forward to sharing my star journal with you and invite you into my backyard (and the backyard of others I know).
Happy Monday and Clear Skies.
As I continue to learn the art of night photography, I'm exploring the technique called light painting. Light painting is when you introduce artificial light to illuminate the foreground of an image. The trick is to not introduce this light into the sky, otherwise you wash out your stars.
Part of me bristles when doing light painting. From an astronomy standpoint, it violates one of the most basic rules of stargazing: Don't turn on white light! So irksome has this feeling become, I decided to try a different angle on light painting. Instead of a flashlight, I decided to try and use the Moon to light paint my images. What was the result? The images below and a moment of joy when I opened them in my computer. Dare I say, it became a moment of prayer as the images called to mind the words of the Exsultet from the Easter Vigil.
This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, astrophotography has given me a visual language to share my inner experience of faith. When I sing the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil, my heart is often filled with a quiet peace. It is this quiet peace I experience every time I look up into the night sky. In short, Thank you, God, for the gift of this world, the gift of a clear night, and the gift of your love from all of us.
Enjoy the pics and Happy Monday!
Why is it a challenge to convince people that light pollution is a problem? For example, St. Olaf Catholic Church is the parish I currently serve, located on the north side of the city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The combined population of Eau Claire and the surrounding cities of Altoona, Lake Hallie, and Chippewa Falls exceeds 100,000. What does this mean to the city dwelling astronomer? A lot of light pollution and not that many stars in the night sky to gaze upon. Here is a visual example of what I see when I look up while standing in our parish parking lot.
Let's compare the night skies over St. Olaf with those over another parish I once served - St. Raymond of Penafort in Brackett, Wisconsin. This rural parish is situated about twenty minutes east of Eau Claire. When the security lights turn off for the evening, the night sky reveals a far more starry reality from their parking lot. Here is another visual example of what can be seen when looking up in St. Raymond's parking lot. (Incidentally, I took these images at St. Olaf and St. Raymond on the same night with the same camera setup.)
When looking at the difference between these skies, the call to reduce light pollution should be "case closed." Right? Just look at the radical difference in our ability to see stars in both image sets. The question that begins this piece then reemerges: Why is it a challenge to convince people that light pollution is a problem?
To answer this question, we only need to ask, Where are these pictures being taken? The answer - In the parking lot of two Catholic Churches. Though the stargazing priest who has served at both parishes may enjoy a dark Church parking lot for stargazing purposes, the parishioners who would be coming to a Mass after dark, along with the Diocesan lawyer and said Pastor, would also appreciate parking lot lighting that made visibility clear and consistent. Whether it be for reasons of protecting people from those who may be hiding in the shadows or simply being able to negotiate the slight elevation of the curb between the parking lot and the sidewalk, the desires of a stargazing priest will always be trumped by the necessary concerns of public safety. Still, when you see what can be done from those same parking lots with images of the night sky stretching over these sacred spaces like a banner, one might also ask, Is there a way we can have both a dark sky and a safe parking lot?
The below pictures are the above pictures greatly enhanced and rotated with the visible stars eroded to make them look more like other images of edge on galaxies.
In addition to practical concerns that would make people believe that light pollution is a regrettable, but necessary reality, many see light pollution as a means of making the night more beautiful. I was confronted with this challenge while doing some astrophotography at the farm of a good friend that lives about 10-15 minutes outside of Eau Claire. Some very low, fast moving clouds rolled in, leading me to think, "Ah, here's a perfect way to show how light pollution impacts the night sky!" However, when I showed these pictures to some friends and staff members, the first reaction was, Wow! I never realized light pollution was that beautiful! Now, in their defense, most of them knew that I was writing a piece on light pollution, so the comment was often given as a playful jab. At the same time, I know that I would have gotten similar responses from others I knew who were not astronomy enthusiasts or knew I was putting this piece together. In short, strike two in making my argument against light pollution. (I didn't even want to show them pictures I took of the Pablo Center, the new performing arts center in the heart of downtown.)
Is trying to fight light pollution a lost cause? Do safety concerns deem light pollution a regrettable necessity? And does artistic lighting actually bring more beauty to the night than do the stars above? Is there a way we can have the light we need, enhance the appearance of our downtowns, and protect the night sky? I would argue that there is a way to accomplish all three goals (and many more not mentioned).
Three of the first four Faith and Astronomy Workshops, hosted by the Vatican Observatory Foundation, contained presentations from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). They are an organization that not only promotes the protection of dark sky areas, but provides scientific research into the impact of light pollution on the health of humans and wildlife, the dangers that using to much light can create for public and personal safety, and how dark sky approaches can actually save communities a great deal of money in electricity usage while achieving better, more consistent lighting for safety concerns. Every time I heard their presentation, I thought, "Why don't people know how much benefit there could be from using lighting that is dark-sky friendly?" I would highly recommend you dig around on their webpage to learn how you and your community can protect the skies above while also protecting the people who look up from below.
Spiritual Exercise: When was the last time you were able to go out and enjoy the beauty of a dark sky? Do you live somewhere that allows for easy access to a starry night? Does where you live make gazing upon the stars next to impossible? Are there simple, yet impactful ways that you can promote dark sky practices in your community? Pray with these questions. Learn about the IDA. And, together, let us protect one of the most beautiful treasures God has given us: The ability to gaze upon creation itself.
Below is a video put together by National Geographic that emphasizes what I find to be the most compelling argument to protect the night sky - Giving people of all ages the opportunity to experience Awe and Wonder gazing at God's creation, while also realizing we are a part of God's creation.
To follow up on last week's post, a big part of my vacation was to explore the capabilities of a new camera. Looking back, I can't remember how I stumbled upon the TinyMOS Kickstarter for the Nano1. I wasn't a frequent flyer on "fund-me" pages and really had no interest in donating toward new technological gadgets. Nevertheless, when I saw the advertisement for an astronomy camera for the beginner, I felt a tug. Ever since my youth, I wanted to do serious astrophotography, but after a few failed attempts in the film era and limited funds, I figured it was a lost cause. The promise of a user friendly camera to enter into astrophotography was quite alluring.
After receiving the camera, I was impressed with how easy it was to use (after finding the power button of course). Now, truth be told, I don't know if I would call it a completely "point and shoot" astronomy camera. In order to take good night photos, you still need to understand things like ISO, exposure times, "f" stops, and so forth. Still, all the presets on the camera are geared toward astrophotography. When using it for the first time, I had a lot of, "So that's the settings you should use for star photography!" Therefore, the first lesson was that not only was this "GoPro of Astronomy" giving me nice pictures, but it was also teaching me how to use the cameras I already own better! Even before I tried to develop any images, these insights made the camera well worth the investment!
So, this is all well and good, but I would understand if some of you are thinking, "Blah, blah, blah, get to the pictures. The proof is in the pixels... Let's see what you got!" Again, I am a beginner in the astrophotography world, so these represent my first attempts. For many, these pictures might evoke a "meh" moment accompanied by a shoulder shrug. However, for someone who's always struggled to take good night photography and has little time to commit to learning the art, these initial images took my breath away! The images below are straight out of the camera with no digital post-processing. Keep in mind, for those of you who know cameras, these images are from a 12 megapixel cmos sensor (basically a variation on the GoPro line). The wide angle exposures ranged from 20 second to 60 seconds! Typically, a camera can only take about 20-30 second exposures (depending on lens size and type of imaging sensor) before you get star trails. When you have a 3mm wide angle fish eye lens, that exposure time can increase. The moon photos are a little out of focus. The out of focus isn't the camera's fault, but mine. This is a completely manual camera and given the small margin of error when focusing a small camera through a Celestron C6 telescope pointed at a quickly moving moon... you get the point.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, one of the greatest gifts this camera has given me is not only beautiful pictures, but an intuitive lesson in how to better use the cameras I already own. I own two older digital cameras: A Pentax Q that's about seven years old (12 megapixels) and a Canon EOS-M that's a little newer (16 megapixels). I bought both of them used for about $100 each (minus the lens for the Canon). A few posts back, I posted some pictures with my Pentax. I think it's pretty safe to say that the Nano1 well out performed my Pentax. In regard to my Canon, at first the Nano1 outperformed it. However, when I took what I learned from the Nano1 and applied it to my Canon, I began to see how I could use the Canon to its maximum capacity. So, can my Canon take better night pictures than the Nano1? Yes. At the same time, I don't mention this to say one camera is better than the other. The difference in sensor size alone should clue you into the fact that this wasn't a "fair fight." I mention it because I'm pretty convinced I would not have learned how to use my Canon the way I do now without the Nano1 giving me a hands on crash course in night photography settings.
So, what faith lessons have l learned from this? The more I have been doing astrophotography, the more attentive I have been not only to the night sky, but the world around me. I find myself looking at things like flowers, trees, and buildings with new eyes. My sense of Awe and Wonder has been renewed through this journey as those same flowers, trees, and buildings are no longer just the visual background noise I pass to get from point A to point B. Instead, this form of photography has given me the opportunity to encounter God's creation in new, exciting, and fresh ways. And then, when the encounter is done, I get to sit in front of a computer and painstakingly edit these images so to reveal how God inspires me to view creation. Purchasing this little (and I mean little) astronomy camera was not just an investment, but a tool that has helped me grow in my attentiveness to God's creation.
As I mentioned last week, this review is not meant to be an endorsement or a critical rejection of the Nano1. Rather, I seek to answer a simple question, "Does the Nano1 allow me to purse my love of astronomy in a way that is meaningful and life-giving?" The answer was a resounding yes! In that spirit, the below images are from the three cameras mentioned above. These are heavily edited images and definitely fit more the genre I dubbed "Astronomical Impressionism" from last week. Some of them will appear in my piece for next week on light pollution.
Enjoy and happy Monday!
What are the most challenging questions to answer? From my experience as a science loving priest, I would have to say the easy questions pose the greatest difficulty. When someone asks me, "Father, why did you become a priest?" I often struggle to find an answer that gives the full breadth of meaning the question demands. To simply reduce my answer to feelings from childhood, affirmation from family and friends, or the life experiences that affirmed this feeling, though helpful, doesn't provide the full spectrum of what I seek to communicate. Put another way, how does one take a 45 year journey and condense it to a 150 character tweet!
I experience a similar struggle when someone asks, "Father, why do you love astronomy?" I could talk about my love of the night skies over the family farm, how my college astronomy studies grabbed me, and my first glimpse of Jupiter's Moons through a telescope. Each answer, however, never leaves me feeling like I fully answered the question. There is an illusive "something" I experience internally when gazing at the heavens I can't quite put into words. At the risk of sounding overly romantic, it reminds me of the stymied moment I observe in a newly engaged couple's eyes when I ask them, "So when did the two of you know?"
This past week I was blessed with a few days of vacation. Most of it was spent, as often is the case, on the family farm. Yet, this trip home had a different air of excitement. As I have shared with you in in the past, I participated in a "fund-me" project to help development an astronomy camera for the masses called the Nano1 from TinyMOS. Next week, I will do a more formal review of the camera. This week, however, I wanted to share the joy and insight I gained by using both this and my Canon EOS-M in ways that made me feel one step closer to provide a better answer to the question, "Why do I love astronomy?"
Being blessed with clear skies and favorable humidity levels every night but one, I began the process of understanding night photography. This learning was not only about ISO settings and exposure lengths, but it was about attentiveness to creation and attentiveness to how creation moves me. It reminded me of the shift in art during the impressionistic era to the internal, seeking to create art that didn't necessarily communicate the precise outward attributes of the subject, but the feelings that subject evoked or experienced themselves. This reflection made me think of the two approaches I encounter when discussing star photography: Is the goal to provide a true image of the night sky or is it to create beautiful pictures that grab people through digital enhancements and color painting?
The first insight to the tension between true images of the night sky and artistic renderings of night photography happened while at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. After a night of shooting with my good friend Jamie Cooper, I opened the images on my computer and had a thought that now occurs every time I take pictures of the night sky, "That's amazing! But that's not how it looked when I took the picture." Lesson One: Even "true color images" of the night sky need some digital alternation to move the picture from what ended up on the sensor to what you remember seeing.
This practice of altering a picture to reflect its "true" appearance helped me realize that any image of the night sky possesses an odd commingling of the objective and subjective. One of my favorite examples of this tension between an objective and subjective interpretation of space is the wildly colorful false image of Pluto done by NASA. At first glance, one may conclude that one of the New Horizons scientists took this image home, left it on the kitchen counter, and their children took their box of crayons and vibrant markers to Pluto. Instead, this was an intentionally false colored image to highlight the different regions of Pluto's surface to better understand the unique attributes of this popular Dwarf Planet. Lesson Two: Even a false image can lead to a better understanding of the objective truth of the subject being studied.
This insight of alteration to help express different aspects of truth helped me embrace both approaches to astrophotography: The "realistic" and the "impressionistic." While trying to take a clear image of the southern horizon of the farm, I took images that reflected both interpretations - What my eyes saw and what my heart felt.
When looking at both images, there is a clear consistency of the subject being taken - The Milky Way. However, the adjustments are not meant to paint a "false image" in a way that is a kind of lie or deception. Rather, the alterations were meant to simply communicate two clear truths: What I saw and what I felt. The difficulty for those who do not understand astrophotography or do not read Sacred Space Astronomy is that this distinction is seldom made when media presents images of the night sky. This lack of an interpretive frame can lead to a false image of creation, mistaking someone's personal artistic interpretation or emotional response to the sky for the plain view of the heavens. This, of course, presumes that a plain view of the night sky is possible.
Reflection: What are the simple questions that are most difficult for you to answer? Are they about faith? Are they about science? Are they a little bit of each? What are creative ways you've found to try to express a true answer to these questions, even if it might mean an over statement of some things to draw attention to the truth of another?
Do these images give me the ability to fully express how I feel when I look at the night sky? Nope. However, they do provide a visual strand to the tapestry of truth that wasn't present before that helps me feel more at peace trying to share with you and others why astronomy moves me so. Below are other images from my vacation. I've labeled the pictures (Nano1) and (Canon EOS-M) so you know which images were taken with which camera.
Has the moon become boring to the modern world? This question has been pestering my thoughts in the wake of the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11. Yes, we enjoyed a brief window of intrigue as the anniversary approached. However, what has come of interest in our celestial partner since then? Granted, NASA plans on returning to the moon in 2024 as a major step toward sending people to Mars. However, I can't help but wonder: Will the rest of the world rally behind this mission or will lack of human interest scuttle the journey?
A fascinating and frustrating reality of lunar missions, at least in the United States, is the intimate connection between the Moon and politics. It was political will, in large part, that put humanity on the Moon. Though the purist in me would love to say that the natural human desire to explore would be enough to merit a return trip to the Moon, the inner realist tempers me with the simple truth that these trips take money - A lot of money. Given the monetary reality of space, the hard truth is that a trip to put people on our lunar satellite once again will only occur if there is a good, practical reason to return. And, sadly, the desires of a space loving Catholic Priest isn't enough.
I would like to invite you into a conversation about the desire (or lack there or) to return to the Moon. In the comments below, please reflect on the question, "Do we, as a global community, desire to return to the Moon or not?" Personally, I can answer this question with a resounding, "ABSOLUTELY!" However, I'm just one voice amid billions.
Does the Moon still captivate? Has virtual reality replaced nature, making trips to the Moon appear to be nothing more than a boring trip to look at rocks? Do the timeless words of Buzz Aldren, Magnificent Desolation, still ring with a tone of wonderment or has the Moon lost it's luster to the broader culture?
Please leave your thoughts below. Together, let's pray that wonderment wins and we return to the Moon not only to achieve practical ends, but to continue the natural human desire to explore.
In the past, I have shared reflections on the beauty of the skies over my parent's farm. I often wish I could share both the stories and the visuals. A few weeks back, I mentioned that I have participated in a "fund-me" program for the development of a point and shoot astronomy camera. I'm happy to share that it is on its way! My plan is to use it on my vacation in a couple weeks to do some night photography on the Kurzynski farm.
In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to get a cheap, but good camera set-up to do some astrophotography at the level of the beginner to both compare basic images of the sky with the Nano1 I'll be reviewing in a couple weeks and simply get outside to enjoy the night sky. The pictures below are not the greatest, they're noisy, and aren't going to show up in any magazines anytime soon. The reason I share them is because it was a lot of fun taking them! As I've shared with you in the past, when taking images of the night sky, there's a simple question you need to ask before you begin this challenging form of photography: Why am I doing this?
The answer to why I took these pictures was simple: I love the farm I grew up on and love the night skies the surround it. I also wanted to offer this post for the non-professional on Sacred Space Astronomy to show how for less than $100, you can get out and do similar photography (most likely a lot better!)
So, what did I use for these pictures?
Camera: A $60, 7 year old camera I found on an online auction in lightly used condition. 12 Megapixel CMOS sensor, and settings that allow for manual exposure of the sensor. In other words, your cellphone probably has a better camera sensor than this camera. However, the manual settings gives this camera more flexibility.
Lens: A $40 stock 9mm lens that is standard for the brand of camera I bought. I cleaned it to try and get the best images possible.
Tripod: A $9.00 Big Box store tripod - nothing special.
Image Editing Software: A highly rated free image editor you can find with a simple Google search.
Exposure Settings: ISO of 1600, f/1.9, 30 second exposures.
Welcome to the farm!
If there is one thing that unites all people from Wisconsin it would be sharing strong opinions about the weather. This past year, the Badger state has had a rather turbulent 2019. As you may recall in previous posts, February was literally a winter for the record books. The city of Eau Claire, where I live, received 53.7 inches of snow, shattering the old February record or 28.2 inches. Though the summer temperatures have been staying within the annual average of highs and lows, the winter months for 2019 were strikingly below normal. Here is a graph from the Wisconsin State Climatology Office to display our 2019 temperatures.
Though the summer temperatures have been within normal parameters for the city of Eau Claire, the precipitation level is way above normal. This has led to higher river levels, atypical flood patterns, and dangerous river conditions for tourists and those who enjoy fishing. In light of these odd weather patterns, I'm sensing a change in attitude about climate change, summarized in the sentiment I hear from farmers, "Something is changing in the weather, Father, and it isn't good."
Now, as Chris Graney and I have mentioned in the past, you can't jump to conclusions about climate change based on one, small data set. Climate science is a complex tapestry of data that is still being developed and understood. The reason I bring up these numbers is to not only share my "genetic disposition" as a Wisconsinite to complain about the weather, but to observe that I do sense a slowly growing concern around the question, "Are these weather changes natural or something we are doing to ourselves?"
I'll do a deeper plunge into this question in the weeks to come. For now, I would like to share some links to environmental disasters that were sparked by choices humans have made. My purpose for sharing this is to help us see that human decisions do have a major impact on the climate we live in. Let all of us embrace the vision of Pope Francis' Integral Ecology that, as part of God's creation, decisions that are made not only impact us on a personal level, but the broader environment as a whole. Let us explore what it means to embrace a practical ethic of ecology that protects not only the health of global ecosystems, but can also be seen as an act of loving our neighbor.
From Public Radio International: Ten Worst Man-Made Environmental Disasters.
The market-driven agricultural practices of U.S. farmers — plowing the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains and monoculture farming — led to one of the most disastrous ecological events in the nation’s history. Between 1930 and 1940, drought conditions and depleted farmland caused severe dust storms, some reaching 10,000 feet in the sky and called “Black Blizzards.” An estimated 2.5 million people were displaced and the catastrophe compounded the Great Depression, creating what some have called the country’s “most hard time.” (https://www.pri.org/stories/2010-05-03/10-worst-man-made-environmental-disasters)
The Rainbow Herbicides showered over the jungles of Southeast Asia included Agent Blue, Purple and Pink, but Orange accounted for more than half of the nearly 20 million gallons of deadly chemicals used by the U.S. military between 1961 and 1971. The cost to human life was horrifying and the large-scale destruction of the region’s environment led to the coinage of the word “ecocide.” (https://www.pri.org/stories/2010-05-03/10-worst-man-made-environmental-disasters)
First there was Windscale in 1957, then Three Mile Island in 1979, but when a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in Ukraine had a meltdown in 1986, it became the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history. The United Nation’s Chernobyl Forum Report estimated the total number of deaths from cancer caused by the radiation exposure to be 4,000. (https://www.pri.org/stories/2010-05-03/10-worst-man-made-environmental-disasters)
For years, residents of Minamata, a town located on Kyushu (Japan's most southwesterly island), had observed odd behavior among animals, particularly household cats. The felines would suddenly convulse and sometimes leap into the sea to their deaths — townspeople referred to the behavior as "cat dancing disease." In 1956, the first human patient of what soon became known as Minamata disease was identified. Symptoms included convulsions, slurred speech, loss of motor functions and uncontrollable limb movements. Three years later, an investigation concluded that the affliction was a result of industrial poisoning of Minamata Bay by the Chisso Corp., which had long been one of the port town's biggest employers. As a result of wastewater pollution by the plastic manufacturer, large amounts of mercury and other heavy metals found their way into the fish and shellfish that comprised a large part of the local diet. Thousands of residents have slowly suffered over the decades and died from the disease. It has taken as long for some to receive their due compensation from the corporation. (http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1986457_1986501_1986450,00.html)
Around midnight on Dec. 2, 1984, an accident at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, resulted in 45 tons of poisonous methyl isocyanate escaping from the facility. Thousands died within hours. More followed over subsequent months — about 15,000 in all. In total, about half a million people were affected in some way. Many of those who survived suffered blindness, organ failure and other awful bodily malfunctions. A shockingly high number of children in the area have been born with all manner of birth defects. In 1989, Union Carbide paid out about half a billion dollars to victims, an amount the afflicted say is not nearly enough to deal with the decades-long consequences. Bhopal remains the worst industrial disaster ever. (http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1986457_1986501_1986445,00.html)
From NASA's Earth Observatory
In 1971, Turkmenistan was a part of the Soviet Union. Not far from the village of Derweze (in Russian, it is Darvaza), a Soviet drilling rig hit an underground cavern, which subsequently collapsed and formed a deep pit, almost a hundred meters across. It was spewing toxic gases.
In order to contain the hazard, the gases were set alight, with the expectation that the gas would burn off in a few days. A few decades later, though, the pit is still on fire. (https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/earthmatters/2011/09/14/gates-of-hell/)
One of the greatest gifts NASA has given to the world is public access to their images. Below are images of lunar landing sites from various Apollo Missions.
Let's have some fun!! Can you guess which Apollo missions the pictures in the slideshow are from? I've numbered the them1-35. Let's see if we can guess all of them!
If you struggle to guess the missions, you can download these beautiful images for yourself from NASA by clicking here.
Enjoy! And NO cheating! 😉