More than two thousand years ago, getting loose change was about as easy as it is today. Hand a shopkeeper a silver dollar in today’s world, and you can expect four quarters in change. What isn't the same as today is the design of the coin one might want to get change for. Hand the same shopkeeper a Roman coin from the first century, especially one with a bright comet engraved on its head, and one of two things might happen: either you’d get thrown out of the store, or the shopkeeper would treat you to dinner and then bequeath his children to you.
After all, if the shopkeeper read Shakespeare, he would know that the coin was celebrating Julius Caesar’s Great Comet, the comet that appeared in the northern sky during the games held shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March , March 15, 44 BC. In the Shakespearian tragedy Julius Caesar, Calpurnia even predicts the murder, and the comet:
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
In Shakespeare’s play, Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 B.C. The play mentions neither the games, nor that they were played in celebration of the new emperor, Augustus Caesar. A bright comet was visible in the northern sky during those games. It was widely interpreted as Julius Caesar’s soul on its way to the stars. At the time, comets were omens. Calpurnia was well aware that her husband’s death could be preceded or followed by a bright comet. And decades later, Seneca, in his anxiety to avoid execution by the suspicious Emperor Nero, insisted that the bright comet of A.D. 61 was a favorable omen to Nero. (It didn't work; Nero had Seneca put to death.)
Comet Lovejoy is visible near Earth's horizon behind airglow in this nighttime image photographed by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 commander, onboard the International Space Station on Dec. 22, 2011.
To engrave a comet on a coin may seem strange, but in fact, most people never get to see a bright comet, an apparition in the night with a head and flowing tail, in their entire lives - I have. My nights under the stars have been brightened by the light of more than two hundred comets. Only a few of these comets were visible without the aid of a telescope, and most were only barely seen as specks of slowly moving haze. But even these were magical.
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9
Comets have appeared in literature all over the world, in almost all languages, because writers since time began have seen comets and have become fascinated by them. Writers like Geoffrey Chaucer, like Alfred, Lord Tennyson, like James Joyce, and like me. I caught the comet bug when I was twelve years old. Our teacher in the sixth grade, Mr. Powter, wanted us to give speeches. The topic I chose was comets. I was interested in their appearances in the sky, their appearances in history, in art, and in literature.
What I knew nothing about was their role in the origin of life on Earth. I was far too young to consider the possibility that when comets collided with the Earth, their debris included the CHON particles –Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen—the alphabet of life. Thirty-four years later, one of the comets I helped discover taught me that lesson as it careened into Jupiter in one of the biggest events in the history of science.
1999 German Stamp - Shoemaker-Levy 9 Impact.
This comet didn't get onto a Roman coin, or even a modern one, but it did find its way onto a German stamp. Not too bad for a tiny comet that wandered through the solar system for eons, gradually got attracted into an orbit about Jupiter, and then, in a series of explosions, reconstructed our understanding of how life could begin on a world.
Editor's Note:Comet 46P/Wirtanen is currently visible through a telescope low in the southern sky around midnight.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen, taken by Yasushi Aoshima on November 2, 2018 @ Ishikawa, JAPAN
Position of Comet 46P Wirtanen, midnight Nov. 6-12, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Clips from local news coverage of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s solar panel array (WLKY, May 30, 2018).
I am happy to introduce to readers of The Catholic Astronomer a few guest bloggers. In September 2017, with astronomy “in the air” thanks to the August 2017 eclipse, my friend and colleague, Prof. Gerry Williger, an astronomer at the University of Louisville here in Kentucky, sent an invitation to Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to attend some of the talks that are part of the Public Astronomy Lecture Series hosted by UofL’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Archbishop Kurtz got right back to Gerry, commenting on his own interest in astronomy, and suggesting that they get together to discuss their common interest. Gerry in turn suggested inviting me and Tim Dowling, who studies planetary atmospheric dynamics at UofL (and who has written a guest post for The Catholic Astronomer on the 2017 eclipse). Within a week or two the four of us were having our first meeting. Astronomy was the spark for this endeavor, but of course there is more to science than outer space, and so soon Archbishop Kurtz invited Kate Bulinski, a geoscientist with the School of Environmental Studies at Bellarmine University in Louisville to join us. The result of all this has been some delightfully nerdy conversations about science (and education, and people, and religion, and the new solar panel array on the archdiocesan offices, and more)! Of course, with such an interesting group, I had to encourage all of these folks to contribute posts to this blog.
Today we have the first of these new guest posts, a short post from Archbishop Kurtz. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D. as the fourth Archbishop and ninth bishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville on June 12, 2007. Before coming to Louisville, Archbishop Kurtz served as Bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee, from 1999 to 2007. If you are thinking that you know the name Kurtz, that may be because Archbishop Kurtz was Vice President of the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) from 2010 to 2013, President of the USCCB from 2013 to 2016, and currently serves as the chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and in that capacity he serves on the administrative committee of the USCCB. And, most importantly of all, Archbishop Kurtz ranks among The Catholic Astronomer’s subscribers! Thus he gets the e-mails announcing the various posts (you can subscribe, too—no cost—see “Subscribe to this Blog” above). And so today he will have the odd experience of getting an e-mail announcing his own post.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, 6 Aug 2018
What a joy it is to be on the regular emails of the Vatican Observatory Blog. I have had an interest in faith and science since I was a boy. In recent days, much of what is written on this topic assumes that faith and science are opposed to one another. Instead, Saint John Paul II points out so well in his 1998 encyclical on the topic, Fides et Ratio, that faith complements science—leading the inquirer to greater and greater wonder and curiosity at the magnificence of God’s creation.
I was delighted about a year ago to meet with three scientists teaching at local universities in Louisville. They reached out to me in the hope that we might discuss the relationship between their Catholic faith and their professions. We have met three times and even added some others to the dialogue. Thus far it has been greatly enriching for me. While our purpose has been to talk and not to plan programs or events, already fruitful results are emerging on the horizon beyond our small group. At our next meeting, we are inviting two high school teachers from a local Catholic high school—one a theology teacher and the other a teacher of science—who have been collaborating to bring together the richness of both of their concentrations. These developments remind me of the Latin definition of theology as fides quaerens intellectum or “faith seeking understanding.” The history of theology clearly reveals that a lively faith does not shun the secular sciences but both learns from them and enriches them.
Dawn Spacecraft at Ceres. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
NASA's Dawn mission has come to an end; the spacecraft has run out of propellant, and is no longer able to point its antenna at Earth. I've seen numerous posts online from distraught astronomers and space enthusiasts - this post will add to that cacophony.
The Dawn spacecraft visited the two most massive bodies in the main asteroid belt: asteroid 4 Vesta, and dwarf planet Ceres; Dawn orbited both of these bodies - a first in spaceflight history.
Dawn was propelled by an ion drive; with barely a breath of thrust, its engine operated for tens of thousands of hours; Dawn set the record for velocity change produced by a spacecraft's engines.
I've followed the Dawn mission since its launch; "The Dawn Mission at Asteroid Vesta" was the first topic I lectured about as a volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador. So much new and interesting information kept pouring in during the mission, I had to update my Dawn lecture continuously; I've written about Dawn extensively on this blog.
For the past several days, I've had the NASA/JPL Deep Space Network Now website up on one of my screens - I saw when Dawn stopped communicating on the days mentioned in the NASA/JPL press release below; I knew it was coming, but my heart still sank.
Dawn not communicating on the NASA/JPL Deep Space Network website, Nov. 2, 2018
However, there has been some controversy concerning Vesta's status as a protoplanet. In an article posted on Icarus in April of 2015, Br. Guy Consolmagno and several other authors ask "Is Vesta an intact and pristine protoplanet?" This article has been referenced in several places - in it, the authors suggest that Vesta either formed from source material with non-chondritic composition, or after its formation underwenta radical physical alteration, possibly caused by collisional processes, that affected its global composition and interior structure.
The authors argue that data from the Dawn mission support that Vesta is not an "intact protoplanet," but possibly reaccreated after a catastrophic collision. I'm not sure how widely this hypothesis is accepted throughout the ranks of planetary scientists, but I notice that the word "protoplanet" does not appear in the NASA/JPL press release below.
Related to this topic: Br. Guy and I had an interesting email conversation in 2014 about "2nd generation differentiation in a re-accreated body" - he got to talking about aluminum in the crustal material, re-melting, and that there are questions about Vesta that need to be followed-up upon. Br. Guy mentioned "So far, I am still just trying to get the rest of the field to recognize that those are interesting questions."
The Dawn spacecraft will remain in an elliptical orbit around dwarf planet Ceres for several decades to come.
Following NASA’s strict planetary protection protocols, my engineers have placed me in an orbit around Ceres that should remain stable for decades. I’ll continue to circle as a satellite around one of the worlds I studied for so long. That’s no moon. That’s me. pic.twitter.com/rFzkzI8Cq9
This photo of Ceres and the bright regions in Occator Crater was one of the last views NASA's Dawn spacecraft transmitted before it depleted its remaining hydrazine and completed its mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has gone silent, ending a historic mission that studied time capsules from the solar system's earliest chapter.
Dawn missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA's Deep Space Network on Wednesday, Oct. 31, and Thursday, Nov. 1. After the flight team eliminated other possible causes for the missed communications, mission managers concluded that the spacecraft finally ran out of hydrazine, the fuel that enables the spacecraft to control its pointing. Dawn can no longer keep its antennae trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge.
Video: Dusk for Dawn: NASA Mission to the Asteroid Belt:
The Dawn spacecraft launched 11 years ago to visit the two largest objects in the main asteroid belt. Currently, it's in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, where it will remain for decades.
"Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission - its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us, and the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system."
Animation of Dawn's trajectory around 4 Vesta from 15 July 2011 to 10 September 2012. CC BY-SA 4.0
Dawn launched in 2007 on a journey that put about 4.3 billion miles (6.9 billion kilometers) on its odometer. Propelled by ion engines, the spacecraft achieved many firsts along the way. In 2011, when Dawn arrived at Vesta, the second largest world in the main asteroid belt, the spacecraft became the first to orbit a body in the region between Mars and Jupiter. In 2015, when Dawn went into orbit around Ceres, a dwarf planet that is also the largest world in the asteroid belt, the mission became the first to visit a dwarf planet and go into orbit around two destinations beyond Earth.
"The fact that my car's license plate frame proclaims, 'My other vehicle is in the main asteroid belt,' shows how much pride I take in Dawn," said Mission Director and Chief Engineer Marc Rayman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time. It's hard to say goodbye to this amazing spaceship, but it's time."
The data Dawn beamed back to Earth from its four science experiments enabled scientists to compare two planet-like worlds that evolved very differently. Among its accomplishments, Dawn showed how important location was to the way objects in the early solar system formed and evolved. Dawn also reinforced the idea that dwarf planets could have hosted oceans over a significant part of their history - and potentially still do.
Asteroid 4 Vesta. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA
"In many ways, Dawn's legacy is just beginning," said Principal Investigator Carol Raymond at JPL. "Dawn's data sets will be deeply mined by scientists working on how planets grow and differentiate, and when and where life could have formed in our solar system. Ceres and Vesta are important to the study of distant planetary systems, too, as they provide a glimpse of the conditions that may exist around young stars."
Because Ceres has conditions of interest to scientists who study chemistry that leads to the development of life, NASA follows strict planetary protection protocols for the disposal of the Dawn spacecraft. Dawn will remain in orbit for at least 20 years, and engineers have more than 99 percent confidence the orbit will last for at least 50 years.
Dawn orbiting Ceres - Sept. 21, 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
So, while the mission plan doesn't provide the closure of a final, fiery plunge - the way NASA's Cassini spacecraft ended last year, for example - at least this is certain: Dawn spent every last drop of hydrazine making science observations of Ceres and radioing them back so we could learn more about the solar system we call home.
The Dawn mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. JPL is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Northrop Grumman in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.
Video: "Dawn: Mission to Small Worlds," with NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green:
A Mercator projection and has a resolution of 460 feet (140 meters) per pixel. The images used to make this map were taken from Dawn's high-altitude mapping orbit (HAMO), at a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers) from Ceres. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Topographic Ceres Map with Feature Names. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
This column first ran inThe Tablet in November 2016
When I first arrived at the Vatican Observatory, more than 20 years ago, I decided to take advantage of its extensive meteorite collection by doing a systematic measurement of meteorite densities. Why? Mostly because no one else had done it before; no one had ever had both the access to such a collection, and the time to make such a survey. (It’s taken more than twenty years, and the work continues.)
When I arrived at the Vatican Observatory I discovered a collection of more than 1000 meteorites; this is just one drawer's worth...
Soon after I started publishing my first results, spacecraft began visiting the asteroids that were the source of these meteorites, measuring their densities as well. The first surprise was that the asteroids were far less dense than the meteorites derived from them… showing that the asteroids were not solid rocks but rather, loose piles of meteoritic rubble. Our meteorite data allows us to make specific, quantitative estimates of the actual rock and metal content to be found within a given asteroid.
Still, both their detailed spectral colors and the actual samples returned by the Japanese Hayabusa probe confirm that these asteroids are made of the same material as the meteorites in our lab. Now NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is already en route to bring back larger samples from a dark, water-rich asteroid while the Japanese and Europeans have other sample return missions in various states of development. A more ambitious NASA project, the Asteroid Redirect Mission, hopes to actually capture a small asteroid and move it into a more convenient orbit around Earth, to be exploited at our leisure.
My interest in studying asteroids in such detail has been purely scientific; asteroids are, after all, the leftover bits from the era when planets like our Earth were formed. Of course, this information could help us to characterize potential “killer” asteroids whose path may sometime intersect Earth’s, with a destructive impact. The bright fireball over Chelyabinsk back in February, 2013, whose sonic boom sent more than a thousand people to hospital, shows that such concerns are not just the fodder for Hollywood movies.
Two recent visitors to Earth, with an image by my friend Michael Carroll (slide 12 of my presentation)
But there’s another use that our data are being put to nowadays. Private corporate ventures – Planetary Resources Incorporated, Deep Space Industries, Kepler Energy and Space Engineering, Asteroid Mining Corporation – are lining up to commercially exploit resources from those asteroids that pass near to the Earth (see my column from April, 2012). Some are concentrating on extracting water from these asteroids, to be used for rocket fuel in space itself. Others look to derive platinum and other rare and valuable metals from these asteroids to be sent back to Earth.Given the non-stop solar energy available in space, one could eventually see these asteroids serve as sites not only for mineral extraction but for manufacturing as well.
Several companies are already set up to mine asteroids for profit (slide 14 of my talk)
It would certainly be good to move the messy business of mining and manufacturing off the surface of our fragile planet. Butthe economy of developing nations depends on exporting minerals. And, unlike the jobs provided by mining on Earth, space mining will probably employ at most a small number of clever programmers and robot operators. Of course, the lives of miners in the third world is harsh; and their minerals are also the source of endless armed conflicts.
This all speaks to the urgent need to rethink the ethics of our current economic system. (I don’t claim to have the answers!) But whether asteroid mining occurs in 10 years or 100, it is inevitable… with an impact as widespread as any killer asteroid.
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Our readership has grown steadily over the last year, but we'd love to have more! Please pass the word about the Catholic Astronomer blog, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. Image Credits:
Messier 45 - The Pleiades Star Cluster. Image via Project Nightflight.
Messier 13 - The Great Cluster in Hercules. Image acquisition by Jim Misti, image processing by Robert Gendler.
Messier 31 - The Andromeda Galaxy. Credit: NASA, ESA, Digitized Sky Survey 2 (Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin)
The Moon will appear low in the eastern sky between the constellations Gemini and Orion during the early morning hours on Oct. 30th.
The Moon will be between the constellations Gemini and Orion in the early morning east-southeastern sky on Oct. 30th. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
That same Moon will appear high in the sky as dawn's light begins to show.
The Moon and the constellations Gemini and Orion are high in the southwest predawn sky on Oct. 30th. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
There will be a conjunction of the crescent Moon and the star Regulus low in the eastern sky, early in the morning hours on Nov. 2nd.
Conjunction of the Moon and the star Regulus in the early morning sky, Nov. 2nd. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
A very thin crescent Moon will appear with the star Arcturus in the eastern predawn sky on Nov. 5th.
A thin waning crescent moon and the bright star Arcturus in the eastern predawn sky, Nov. 5th. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Mars and Saturn continue to put on a show in the southern sky after sunset.
Mars and Saturn in the south-southern sky after sunset on Oct. 30th. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Observing Target: The Dance of the Planets
Over the next week, the positions of Jupiter and Mercury change drastically in southwestern sky at dusk! Mercury stays low but gets brighter - Jupiter makes a quick dive towards the horizon, and will soon to be hidden by the glare of the Sun.
Animation of Mercury and Jupiter in the southwestern sky near sunset Oct. 29-Nov. 7
Comet 46P/Wirtanen in the news:
Comet 46P/Wirtanen & IC 1762, Oct. 29, 2018. Credit: Piotr Dzikowski
You can find Comet 46P/Wirtanen in the southern sky after midnight this week.
Position of Comet 46P Wirtanen Oct. 30-Nov. 6 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
The Moon is a waning gibbous heading towards third-quarter on Oct. 31st; after Halloween, the Moon will be a waning crescent. As I saw my wife off to school this morning, predawn light was just starting brighten the sky, and the Moon was nearly directly overhead.
The Moon from Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2018. Visualizations by Ernie Wright.
The sun has been spot-free for 12 days. Coronal holes remain open at both poles, and a rather large hole with a smaller companion appear on the equator. SpaceWeather.com says "A stream of solar wind flowing from a small hole in the sun's atmosphere is approaching Earth. Estimated time of arrival: Oct. 31st. The gaseous material could create ghostly-green skies around the Arctic Circle for Halloween." There doesn't appear to be any bright regions of coronal loop activity, but there may be something rotating into view on the Sun's limb.
As with last week, there are a couple relatively long-lasting prominences on the Sun's limb, and multiple short-lived ones popping up and quickly disappearing; have a close look at the northern limb in the animation below where dozens of small prominences are doing this.
The solar wind speed is 310.9 km/sec, with a density of 10.4 protons/cm3.
Animated LASCO C2 Coronograph showing the solar corona above the Sun's limb (the white circle).
In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits from Oct. 29, 2018 intersect at a single point--Earth. Source: Spaceweather.com
The Solar System
This is the position of the planets and a couple spacecraft in the solar system - the Parker Solar Probe has passed the orbit of Mercury!
Position of the planets and several spacecraft in the inner solar system, Oct. 30, 2018. The Parker Solar Probe has crossed the orbit of Mercury, making it the closest a spacecraft has ever come to the Sun. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
Position of the planets in the middle solar system, Oct. 30, 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
Hubble is back!!! At 9:00 PM EDT last night the spacecraft was returned to normal science operations, and at 2:10 AM EDT today it completed its first science observations since October 5. For more details: https://t.co/lT2Wpycqw2pic.twitter.com/RIcrSyJ2hF
Holy rotating Bennu, Batman! I used PolyCam to capture this set of images over a span of five hours on Oct. 23. The images show three views of asteroid Bennu as it rotates 1,800 miles (3,000 km) in the distance. More details: https://t.co/lNqY8Ibirepic.twitter.com/Oaatp1xDXT
The initial results are in, and my third Asteroid Approach Maneuver executed as expected! 🎉🎉🎉 I used the TCM thrusters for this two-part braking burn designed to slow my speed relative to Bennu from about 11.7 mph (5.2 m/sec) to 0.24 mph (0.11 m/sec): https://t.co/tsf9pn53uZpic.twitter.com/X84WyzsmvU
As a Catholic Priest, there is much in our world that can trouble the soul. Whether it be very public troubles like church scandals or more personal troubles like a parishioner dying of cancer, the twofold ability to both enter into these troubles with Christ's love, but also remove my heart from them has been essential. To state this more plainly, detachment of heart, upholding the dignity of others, and finding an ability to laugh if things start to get a little too heavy!
Unfortunately, there are times when laughter is not only impossible, but would be inappropriate. This past week in the United States, we have dealt with such times whether it be the mailing of bombs to current and past elected officials or the antisemitic assassination of eleven of God's children at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. There is much that can be and should be said to address these tragedies. Unfortunately, in the spirit of the story of Bartimaeus from this last weekends Gospel, though the eyes of many may have physical clarity, the eyes of faith that is to constantly see human dignity in all people made in God's image and likeness is giving way to overtures for power.
In 2015, Congregation Sons of Abraham Synagogue and Roncalli Newman Parish in La Crosse, Wisconsin, held an inter-faith prayer service for Holocaust Remembrance. The theme that year was, "Children of the Holocaust." Yad Vashem, the holocaust martyrs and remembrance authority in the Holy Land, gave us this picture as the central image of our prayer service. It is of two Jewish siblings who were executed shortly after this picture was taken. As part of the prayer service, youth from both communities read excerpts from journals found in concentration camps that were penned by children. My prayer is that a day will come when the mentality that made this image possible will never exist again.
I could spill a great deal of ink (or pixels) on these situations, but for the sake of The Catholic Astronomer, I wanted to cast this in light of the power of stability and civility. Whether it be the parishioner in the pew, the friend who calls, or the city leaders I meet, the anger and outrage that come with acts of violence, co-mingled with power structures that minimize the true commentary on these tragedies for the sake of personal gain, regardless of one's political persuasion, creates a blinding emotionalism that prevents our spiritual eyes from seeing clearly how God is present in these tragedies.
Amid this blindness, there needs to be an apolitical starting point in which we stand together as expressions of God's love first, respecting the dignity we are to have for one another, and then, with clarity of mind and sobriety of heart, approach these tragedies from a standpoint of the common good versus maximizing the personal gain for an individual or social ideology.
This cultural emotionalism is not limited to these acts of terrorism and hate, but have become a calling card for much of what I see in the combative tone of the "faith versus science" drama. Amid a manufactured culture of supposed intellectual dualism, the supposed war between faith and science has done much harm to the spiritual stability and civility of those who have fallen into this rabbit hole. What ultimately takes hold isn't a core sense of sound principles to be explored in a mutually respectful investigation into the truth, but a fundamental distrust between people of faith and science, creating an unstable and uncivil starting point for a dysfunctional relationship.
When I think of dysfunctional relationships in my ministry, I initially gravitate toward marriages that are struggling. Regardless of what the struggle may be, the ministerial approach I often take is to find something, anything the couple can trust each other about. When I find that morsel of hope, I then try to find other areas that pertain to the difficulties that are at the heart of the problems of their marriage. All of this is done within the bonds of charity toward one another, charity that isn't always soft, but respectful, transparent, and truly desiring what is best for the other and their marriage.
Whether it be the broken cultures of a country, a couple that has fallen out of love, or the clashes between faith and science, I often times wonder if the first move we need to make is to seek that morsel of hope, finding the one or two things, as simple as they may be, in which we can find trust? Whatever that morsel may be and regardless of how simple it may appear, my prayer today is that trust and dignity can be restored so we can see a return to stability and civility in our world. Let us distance our hearts from the toxic emotionalism that feeds the desire to disregard human dignity. Let us sober our minds and hearts to the fact that every person, regardless of race, gender, country of origin, or state of life is deserving of love, dignity, and respect. And may we embrace this dignity in how we treat one another, personally and communally, on a daily basis.
Spiritual Exercise: What is the morsel of trust that you and I can find together? How can you and I form trust with one another? How can you and I respect each other's dignity? How can you and I voice our outrage for the tragedies of our time in a way that doesn't perpetuate a culture of darkness and distrust, but a culture of faith, hope, and love? Pray with that this week. Pray for our world. Pray for nothing but peace.
This year marked my first opportunity to attend a general assembly of the International Astronomical Union. It was an exciting two weeks in which scientists from all branches of astronomy and space physics gathered in beautiful Vienna, Austria to discuss their research and to do the work of the IAU. Walking around the meeting venue, one could see astronomers of all stripes, from all over the world, and occasionally one could catch a glimpse of one of the “Big Names” in astronomy wandering about, usually in heated discussion with others about some important topic or other.
What makes the IAU different from other scientific meetings is that it serves as the governing body for those aspects of astronomy that require universal agreement, such as the naming of stars and asteroids or of features on planets and moons. It was the IAU that famously voted in 2006 to change the definition of a planet, which resulted in the “demotion” of Pluto to the status of dwarf planet. I was particularly excited to attend the business meetings of the IAU in order to participate in this process. I was not one of the national representatives—for the Vatican, that honor belonged to Fr. Paul Gabor, S.J., Fr. Chris Corbally, S.J., and Fr. Richard Boyle, S.J., all of whom are members of the Vatican Observatory—but the general membership was permitted to vote on all scientific matters. For the most part, these consisted of nothing important or controversial; most passed unanimously and I cannot even remember what they were.
One issue in particular created quite a bit of excitement and discussion, and ultimately they decided that the issue was too important to limit the vote to the members who were present at the assembly, but rather they extended a period of online voting for the entire membership of the IAU. This resolution regarded the renaming of the Hubble Law to the Hubble-Lemaître Law, thus recognizing Lemaître’s contributions to our understanding of the expansion of the universe as a result of the Big Bang.
Msgr. Georges Lemaître (left) with Albert Einstein. (Photo taken at Caltech in 1933)
Msgr. Georges Lemaître was a Catholic priest of the archdiocese of Leuven, Belgium. He was also an astrophysicist and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven, and a contemporary of Albert Einstein. At a time when many cosmologists insisted on a steady-state model of a static, non-expanding universe, Lemaître noted that the geometry of Einstein’s theory of general relativity was more consistent with an expanding universe, and his expanding-universe model was also consistent with the observed redshift of galaxies. Also, if the universe was expanding, he inferred that at some point in the past, the entire universe would have been condensed into an infinitely dense, infinitely hot point. He referred to this theory as the primordial atom, but his detractors—in particular Fred Hoyle—thought the theory smacked of theism (if there is a moment of creation, there must be a Creator), and blew it off with the dismissive name, “big bang.”
Lemaître published work on this topic in 1927. Hubble and Lemaître then exchanged information about their work at the thirdIAU assembly in 1928, and Hubble published his own work on the velocity-distance relation of galaxies in 1929. When in 1931 Lemaître published an English translation of his 1927 paper, he intentionally omitted the section on the effects of expansion on the recession of galaxies because he “did not find advisable to reprint the provisional discussion of radial galaxies… which could be replaced by a bibliography of ancient and new papers” [e.g. Hubble] “on the subject.”
The Fourth IAU General Assembly in 1932. Lemaître is marked with an arrow.
The voting period for the IAU resolution ended on Friday, October 26, 2018, and the results were just announced on Monday the 29th.With 78% of votes in favor, the resolution passed.
In addition to recognizing Lemaître’s obvious and valuable contributions to cosmology, the change of the name of the Hubble-Lemaître Law has another important implication for persons of faith. Astronomy textbooks will be adjusted to include this new name. Along with Gregor Mendel for biology, here is another religious scientist whose name will become recognizable to any high school or college student who takes a basic course in astronomy. In a culture that increasingly preaches a dichotomy between faith and science, it is important to have figures that we can hold up who exemplify the compatibility of the two. History is full of such examples, but most are hidden, forgotten, or actively ignored because they do not fit the narrative.
Lemaître had a profound respect for both faith and science, and recognized their respective roles and respective limitations. When Pope Pius XII wanted to proclaim the theory of the primordial atom as a scientific validation of the theology of Creation, Lemaître—with the help of Fr. Daniel O’Connel SJ, the director of the Vatican Observatory—talked him out of it, emphasizing the importance of allowing the science to proceed on its own without theological entanglements and vice versa.
Excerpt from the Vatican Observatory guest book for May of 1957, during the meeting on stellar populations. The arrows indicate the signatures of Georges Lemaître and Fred Hoyle. Other signatures are from recognizable figures in astronomy.
Lemaître is also a good personal example in contradiction to today's culture of extreme partisanship and its effect on our interpersonal relationships. He and Fred Hoyle held opposite and occasionally antagonistic positions both in their science and in their faiths; where Lemaître was a devout Catholic priest, Hoyle was an agnostic who leaned toward atheism; and while Lemaître was a proponent of Big Bang cosmology, Hoyle supported a steady state model and was an outspoken critic of the Big Bang. Nevertheless, they had respect for each other and in fact became friends. In 1957 the Vatican Observatory hosted a meeting on stellar populations in which the two both participated, and afterwards they took a driving vacation together throughout Europe. They show that it is possible to strongly disagree and yet remain friends.
For more about the IAU resolution, follow this link.
St. Macrina the Younger has a fascinating fourth-century discourse on science and technology. Macrina, who lived from 330 to 379 A.D., was the sister of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa, and the daughter of St. Emmelia, and the granddaughter of St. Macrina the Elder (saints run thick in that family). Her discourse on science and technology was recorded by St. Gregory: it was part of their dialogue that became Gregory’s On the Soul and the Resurrection.
Macrina discusses how we know more than just what our eyes show us, because through our minds we take what our eyes see and we reason and we calculate; and we come to know, for example, that the sun is far larger than the Earth (science), and how to create machinery that can even imitate human actions (technology). Check out what St. Macrina the Younger has to say—her discourse is available on the Vatican Observatory Faith and Science pages:
During Space Week 2018 Let's Go To The Moon offered children the chance to draw some aspect of Apollo 11's iconic mission. Almost 400 took part in various venues across the country. This therefore offered me an ideal opportunity to vary the subjects of the drawing challenges for the kids.
During all workshops I offer a demonstration drawing . This is done in seconds to help the children focus on the important aspects of drawing. Each child has about 20 minutes to draw therefore focus is vital. Teaching them to observe the subject before starting is key. Asking the kids if they agree with me about recognisable shapes within for example Buzz Aldrin's helmet and visor. Inviting them to look closely at where the shadows are and where the light is. Requesting the children to be mindful of curves , rectangles, cylinders, cones and key markings is a good way to go.
I encougage the children not to box themselves in with lines, rather to try to make light ghost images first , work on detail later. It really does not matter if you are drawing an apple or a spacecraft the same observation actions apply. Many children listened and produced better work because of small suggestions. It is often the small things in a drawing that makes it stand out.
At Axis Theatre Ballymun Dublin 120 children took part in two Space Week sessions. Buzz Aldrin's helmet and the Saturn V rocket were the targets. It's fantastic to have an enormous screen and big sound for the workshops . Interesting to see how a 20 foot high space helmet or rocket can transfer to 16X12 inch pieces of paper. All of these drawings were exhibited at school after the workshops to spread the story and the pride. St Brigids Girls National School were already familiar with "One small step for man " they did not need much encouragement, see video below.
Over all the workshops it was interesting to see how kids took on such complex challenges. One group was charged with drawing all three astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. It was doubtful that they had ever drawn a person before yet alone three people. Again using the actions of observing shapes, light and shadow some terrific efforts ensued.
In Newport National School 40 drawings of the iconic helmet were produced, some with great attention to detail. These particular drawings will be on exibition at the Mayo Dark Skies Festival soon. On the same day another local school came to Ballycroy National Park to take part and become familiar with this historic mission. Some days later the workshop visited Killeen National School in Louisburgh Mayo. There another 40 space week children became very familiar with the reflections and shadows within the visor of the second man to walk on the moon.
About 100 children attended the workshop in Dunboyne Library. Here at the top of the slide show are a few of the many drawings produced by three local 6th classes . Group 1 were challenged to draw Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin. The second group were challenged to draw Buzz Aldrins helmet with reflections. The final group of the day were challenged to draw the Command Module , Service Module and Eagle lander. In particular I loved the drawings of the three men , some animated , some hilarious all wonderful .
November’s crisp autumn skies bring great views of our planetary neighbors. The Moon pairs up with Saturn and Mars in the evenings, and mornings feature eye-catching arrangements with dazzling Venus. Stargazers wanting a challenge can observe a notable opposition by asteroid 3 Juno on the 17th and watch for a few bright Leonid meteors.
Red Mars gleams high in the southern sky after sunset. Saturn sits westward in the constellation Sagittarius. A young crescent Moon passes near Saturn on the 10th and 11th. On the 15th a first quarter Moon skims by Mars, coming within 1 degree of the planet.
Crescent Moon Near Saturn Nov. 11, 2018. Credit: Stellarium/ Bob Trembley
Moon Near Mars Nov. 15, 2018. Credit: Stellarium/ Bob Trembley
The red planet receives a new visitor on November 26th, when NASA’s InSight mission lands and begins its investigation of the planet’s interior. News briefings and commentary will be streamed live at: bit.ly/landsafe
NASA InSight arriving at Mars, Nov. 26, 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley
InSight Nearing Mars atmosphere entry – Nov. 26, 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
Two bright planets hang low over the western horizon after sunset as November begins: Jupiter and Mercury. They may be hard to see, but binoculars and an unobstructed western horizon will help determined observers spot them right after sunset. Both disappear into the Sun’s glare by mid-month.
Jupiter and Mercury in the southwestern sky at dusk on Nov. 1, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Early risers are treated to brilliant Venus sparkling in the eastern sky before dawn, easily outshining everything except the Sun and Moon. On November 6th, find a location with clear view of the eastern horizon to spot Venus next to a thin crescent Moon, making a triangle with the bright star Spica. The following mornings watch Venus move up towards Spica, coming within two degrees of the star by the second full week of November. Venus will be up three hours before sunrise by month’s end – a huge change in just weeks! Telescopic observers are treated to a large, 61” wide, yet razor-thin crescent at November’s beginning, shrinking to 41” across by the end of the month as its crescent waxes.
Conjunction of the Moon, Venus and Spica Nov. 6, 2018, 6:30 AM. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Conjunction of Venus and Spica Nov. 16, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Observers looking for a challenge can hunt asteroid 3 Juno, so named because it was the third asteroid discovered. Juno travels through the constellation Eridanus and rises in the east after sunset. On November 17th, Juno is at opposition and shines at magnitude 7.4, its brightest showing since 1983! Look for Juno near the 4.7 magnitude double star 32 Eridani in the nights leading up to opposition. It is bright enough to spot through binoculars, but still appears as a star-like point of light. If you aren’t sure if you have identified Juno, try sketching or photographing its star field, then return to the same area over the next several days to spot its movement.
This finder chart shows the path of the asteroid 3 Juno as it glides past 32 Eridani in November 2018. The asteroid’s position is highlighted for selected dates, including its opposition on the 17th. Image created in Stellarium for NASA Night Sky Network.
The Leonids are expected to peak on the night of the 17th through the morning of the 18th. This meteor shower has brought “meteor storms” as recently as 2002, but a storm is not expected this year. All but the brightest meteors will be drowned out by a waxing gibbous Moon.
Interactive animation of the Leonids meteoroid stream
Stay warm and enjoy this month’s dance of the planets!
You can catch up on all of NASA’s current and future missions at nasa.gov
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The models of asteroid 1999 KW4 described in this column were exciting enough to make the cover of Science!
This column first ran in The Tablet in October, 2006. We first ran it here at The Catholic Astronomer in 2015
Doing science has often been compared to reading a mystery novel; the hunger to know “whodunit” keeps us turning the pages. But what stops us from just skipping to the last page, and moving on to the next book? Perhaps a better metaphor is a spice cake. The real pleasure of the process lies in the spicy experience of wondering. Actually finding out is just the icing on the cake.
At the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society, held earlier this month  in Pasadena, California near the famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), dozens of little slivers of spice cake were on offer.
A wonderful little asteroid system, called 1999 KW4, passed within half a million kilometers of the Earth about five years ago; it’s taken that long to analyze the radar reflections and work out its remarkable shape and spin. It’s shaped like a top, with a ridge about its equator that looks like a mountain range. But in fact it is spinning so quickly that dust on its surface slides “uphill” to the top of these mountains, where it is only just balanced by the asteroid’s gravity against being flung out into space. The icing, the bit that proves the hypothesis? This little asteroid has a moonlet, as you’d expect for material spun off its parent.
Outside Saturn’s more famous rings, earlier spacecraft had discovered a fainter ring where the moon Enceladus orbits. Where did the material in this ring come from? The subject has tantalized theorists for twenty years. Now the Cassini spacecraft has found fountains of liquid water pouring out from Enceladus’ south pole.
Previous images of Ceres, the largest asteroid, showed a shape that suggested it was a differentiated body with a rocky core, icy mantle, and dark rock crust. Is Ceres actually another geologically active dwarf planet, like Pluto? The icing: new Hubble infrared images now indicate a surface covered with suggestive looking features. (And of course, we now know ever so much more about Ceres... with ever so many more questions!)
We got a bit of icing on our own spicy puzzle, described in my column here about a cloud of gas we’d observed moving away from a Centaur, orbiting in from beyond Neptune en route towards the Sun. Our colleagues at JPL now suggest that we were watching a separate comet, one that almost shares an orbit with the Centaur, and the two just happened to be passing near each other when we observed them last spring. They encounter each other only occur once every 1600 years; we were just lucky.
Like spice cake, each one of these explanations leaves us hungry for more. What makes the asteroid spin so fast? Why does only Enceladus have fountains? Are those features on Ceres geology, or just impact craters? And, just as nerve-wracking: how will the upcoming US Congressional elections affect the NASA research budget to find out these answers?
We don’t know the answers to any of those questions. But the suspense, the spice, is made bearable by the faith that the answers will come... with luck, on a time scale not too painfully distant.
That faith is what keeps us going through all the uncertainties of daily life, including the biggest questions of all — the ones we won’t solve until our lives here have ceased. But just as each newly solved science puzzle generates ever more bits of spice, it seems to be a pattern of the universe that even “the end” will be no end at all, just the introduction to a newer tantalizing experience.
Indeed, it was only by solving previous mysteries that these delicious news ones have come to light. A scientific answer that doesn’t suggest new problems is as cloying as icing without cake. In life, as in science, you can only have your cake by eating it.