It is easy to see from this image why people have been drawn to the Nile River in Egypt for thousands of years. Green farmland marks a distinct boundary between the Nile floodplain and the surrounding harsh desert. ~USGSDownload this image from USGS (7801 x 8400 px, 51.9 MB). View all the USGS Earth as Art Galleries: Gallery 1, Gallery 2, Gallery 3, Gallery 4.
Here are some close-ups from the image above:
Landsat 8 is the eighth satellite of the Landsat program. Launched on Feb. 11, 2013.
Landsat 8 - Earth Observation Satellite. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
Landsat 8 consists of three key mission and science objectives:
Collect and archive medium resolution (30-meter spatial resolution) multispectral image data affording seasonal coverage of the global landmasses for a period of no less than 5 years;
Ensure that Landsat 8 data are sufficiently consistent with data from the earlier Landsat missions in terms of acquisition geometry, calibration, coverage characteristics, spectral characteristics, output product quality, and data availability to permit studies of landcover and land-use change over time;
Distribute Landsat 8 data products to the general public on a nondiscriminatory basis at no cost to the user.
On Friday evening, May 4, 2018, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (also known as the TAAA) bestowed its highest honor, the Bart and Priscilla Bok award, to Dr. Tim Hunter, a retired radiologist at the University of Arizona. The award honors a lifetime of service to astronomy, and dedication and a passion for the night sky.
Dr. Tim Hunter, dressed for observing, stands with the original 24-inch telescope at the Grasslands Observatory. Credit: David H. Levy
The TAAA’s Bok award was started around 1984 in honor of the husband-and-wife team of astronomers whose lives were devoted to studying our galaxy, the Milky Way. Bart and Priscilla Bok’s enthusiasm led to four editions of a popular science book called The Milky Way. After Priscilla’s death in 1975, Bart produced a legendary fifth edition, which he dedicated in his wife’s memory. “This is the first time I've revised the book without her,” he wrote.
At that time, Tim Hunter was beginning his career in radiology and rapidly expanding his work in astronomy. He has approached the night sky with an energy that can hardly be compared to anyone’s. He has taken thousands of photographs, ranging from five planets in a single exposure back in 1984 to in-depth images of remote galaxies from his Grasslands Observatory in the hills around Sonoita, in southeastern Arizona.
Besides observing, Tim has maintained a close relationship with the TAAA. He served as its president during the early 1990s, the time when the association was just beginning ITS search for a dark sky observing site that has evolved today as the Chiricahua Astronomy Complex. Tim has written an astronomy column for the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson’s newspaper, for years and years. Through this writing Tim uses his considerable talent to inspire his readers to enjoy the night sky. Just as he operates one of his remote telescopes in Sonoita from his Tucson home, he hopes that his readers will enjoy the sky from their homes, either just by looking up or by using their small telescopes.
Of all the many different lectures Tim has given over decades, by far my favorite is his autobiographical “My Life and Hard Times as an Amateur Astronomer.” I first heard him give this lecture in 1990. I sat in the front row. I smiled. I laughed. I cried. I was taken by the depth and perception of Tim’s words and insights. Here is a man who loves the night sky. It is with this spirit and pleasure that, with much happiness, we present Tim Hunter with his Bart and Priscilla Bok award.
The June 8, 2004 Transit of Venus. Credit: Dr. Tim Hunter.
Black holes are hard to point to because they are...black.
Nevertheless, we did find out that there is a supermassive black hole at the Milky Way's center. It has a mass that is greater than that of the Sun by factors of tens of millions.
We arrived at this conclusion by watching what individual stars do that are very near to the Galactic center. These ill-fated stars describe oval-shaped orbits as if they are waltzing about some invisible central object.
Recent studies using sophisticated computer simulations are showing that about ten supermassive black holes should be lurking somewhere in galaxies the size of the Milky Way. Only one of these monsters would be situated at the very center (the one we found), while the others would orbit the galaxy at distances that are large compared to the Sun's distance from the Galactic center (whew), and far above or below the Galactic plane.
Fortunately, we are situated exactly in the plane in a relatively dull and unregarded ``suburb" of a spiral arm.
So do we have a chance to detect these other supermassive black holes in the Milky Way, if they exist? Black holes are impossible to see directly unless they are actively consuming some other object.
One idea that comes to mind is that we can discover black holes indirectly, by watching the effect they have on the light coming from the objects that happen to be behind them.
Black holes, afterall, are just like all other massive objects in that they the bend light around them. Shining a light near a black hole (but not into the black hole) will have the curious effect that the light appears to emerge from the other side. As an analogy, it is as if when you shine a flashlight onto a friend, that light would bend around your friend's body and appear to emerge from other side!
By monitoring millions of stars about once per week for evidence of this "light bending" effect, one can in principle locate these giant objects. To date no one has
found another supermassive black hole in our Galaxy. The best observatory to begin a search for such hidden
monsters is probably the Large Synoptic Sky Telescope (LSST) which is currently under construction in Chile.
The Moon, Mars and Saturn are spread across the southern sky before dawn.
Southern sky at 5:00 AM, May 8, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
The Moon is high in the southern sky during the morning, and sets in the southwest shortly before 1:00 PM
Southern sky at 7:00 AM, May 8, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Close-up of the Moon in the southern sky at 9:00 AM, May 8, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Venus continues to play the role of the "evening star"- low in the western sky near sunset.
Western sky at 9:00 PM, May 8, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Jupiter, at opposition this week, will be bright in the southern sky and visible all evening.
Southern sky at midnight, May 9, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Cygnus, Lyra and Hercules are low in the eastern sky at midnight.
Eastern sky at midnight, May 9, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
The Moon visible in the morning skies as a waning crescent just past third quarter. The Moon rises later each morning, and will look more "crescent-like" over the next few mornings; May 8-10th would be good days to do some early morning sidewalk astronomy at schools!
The Sun has a small spot near the equator that is decaying, and another spot rotating into view along the eastern limb. You can try to find the sunspots in this 4K image: [Link]
Coronal holes at both poles with an occasional hole at the equator seems to be "a thing" the last few months... because that's what we've got going on now! You can see the bright areas of coronal activity where the sunspots are. The new sunspot rotating into view is showing a lot of coronal loop activity.
The solar wind speed is 673 km/sec, with a density of 9.0 protons/cm3. Both of those numbers are the largest I've seen them since starting to report them. SpaceWeather.com says: "For the 4th day in a row, a stream of high-speed solar wind is blowing around Earth. The gaseous material is flowing from a wide hole in the sun's atmosphere--so wide that Earth could remain inside the stream for another 2 or 3 days. NOAA forecasters say there is a 50% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on May 8th as the solar wind speed tops 600 km/s (1.3 million mph)."
There have been some impressive prominences in the Sun's chromosphere over the last couple days. The sunspot rotating into view is clearly visible and showing a lot of activity.
In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits intersect at a single point--Earth. Source: Spaceweather.com
The Solar System
This is the position of the planets in the solar system:
Position of the planets in the inner solar system, May 8, 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
Position of the planets in the inner and middle solar system, May 8, 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
Confirmed Exoplanets: 3,725 (4/26/2018)
Multi-Planet Systems: 613 (4/26/2018)
Kepler Candidate Exoplanets: 4,496 (8/31/2017)
TESS Candidate Exoplanets: 0 Data from the NASA Exoplanet Archive
The Mars InSight mission launched on Saturday May 5th at 7:05 AM.
InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a Mars lander designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the "inner space" of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core.
Studying Mars' interior structure answers key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system - Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars - more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets. InSight also measures tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars today.
The lander uses cutting edge instruments, to delve deep beneath the surface and seek the fingerprints of the processes that formed the terrestrial planets. It does so by measuring the planet's "vital signs": its "pulse" (seismology), "temperature" (heat flow), and "reflexes" (precision tracking).
This mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program for highly focused science missions that ask critical questions in solar system science. - From the InSight website.
Mars InSight on Approach to Mars, Nov. 26, 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
This artist's concept depicts the InSight lander on Mars after the lander's robotic arm has deployed a seismometer and a heat probe directly onto the ground. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
In my previous posts on Science in the Classroom, I've presented resources to you on the themes of Awe and Wonder and the question, What does it means to be human? In both sets of resources, what begins to emerge is that a powerful bridge between faith and science is found when the measurable and quantifiable aspects of creation begin to point to a beauty and elegance that sparks a sense of wonder, evoking an organic ethical vision of protecting the dignity of the human person and all of creation. This relationship between "a world of measurements" and "a world of wonder and dignity" reminds me of St. Bonaventure's classic work, The Mind's Journey to God. Click here to view a video I did for the Vatican Observatory Foundation, explaining this distinction in the thought of St. Bonaventure.
Fr. Stanley Jaki
What begins to emerge from the writings of St. Bonaventure is the idea that faith and science explore fundamentally different types of questions, pointing to the same source of truth. This distinction reminds me of another enlightening classification to help understand the relationship between faith and science that comes from the late Benedictine Priest, Fr. Stanley Jaki. In a lecture I have provided at the end of this post, Fr. Jaki makes the clear distinction that theology measures nothing, while exact science deals with numbers and observation of change. This distinction points to how theology and science explore truth in two very different ways.
On a personal level, these distinctions tease out a principle that I have shared before on what I see as the healthiest approach to faith and science: Let faith be faith and science be science, trusting that, as both fields seek truth, the bridges between faith and science will naturally emerge with time and patience. As with all principles, it is imperfect and needs further refinement, but, as a starting point, I have found it a durable and good avenue into a healthy discussion on faith and science. Here is a second video I did for the Vatican Observatory on how Stanley Jaki would use a story of Lord Kelvin to emphasize the distinction between scientific questions and theological/philosophical questions.
These theological perspectives on the distinction between faith and science are affirmed by a resource that comes from the National Academy of Science. In its open source text on teaching evolution, the Q and A section explores the question faith and science. In the section on religion, it affirms that scientific truth is tentative, often modified, changed, or discarded by new data. Theology explores foundational truths that have been revealed through Natural Reason and Divine Revelation. Therefore, theological exploration is more of a deepening of these fundamental truths in contrast to changing these truths.
Below are a series of videos that deepen this distinction. The first is from the AAAS's Science for Seminaries series, exploring the Working of Science. The second video is from the series of videos Exploring Science in Seminaries, speaking about what scientific literacy needs to look like for clergy in daily ministry. Third, I will present a creative video taking a section from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity to examine the virgin birth of Jesus Christ in light of religion and science. The final video is of Fr. Stanley Jaki, speaking about the distinction between the nature of science and the nature of theology (along with a rather lengthy reflection on scientists who steal other scientists ideas - like his own).
A giant nineteenth-century orrery that mechanically reproduces the motions of the inner solar system can be found at the Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort, Kentucky. The orrery—also known as a planetarium—was created to be a teaching tool by Thomas Barlow (1791-1865) of Lexington, Kentucky, with his son Milton. However, it is also a work of astronomical art!
The Barlow Orrery, also known as The Barlow Planetarium. The Barlows built at least 20 of these. Sayre School in Lexington, Kentucky purchased this one from Milton Barlow in the 1880’s for astronomy instruction. More than a century later, in the year 2000, the school donated it to the Kentucky Historical Society.
This image gives a sense of the size of the orrery. The sun is the size of a large beach ball. No doubt this large machine was a fantastic tool for explaining how the solar system functioned and why the seasons occur—much better than computer apps that do the same thing today, but that are confined to a 2-D screen that is much smaller than this 3-D model.
Part of a diagram of the orrery, showing a “side view” of the gear train that makes the orrery work. At the end of the arm that holds the Earth and moon was a handle. This handle was used to pull the Earth-moon system around the large wooden ring that comprises the circumference of the orrery. The pulling action set a gear train in motion. That gear train rotated the Earth, drove the moon to orbit the Earth, caused Earth’s axis to hold a constant angle (so that it would always point toward a “north star”), drove Mercury and Venus to orbit the sun, and caused the sun to rotate, all at the correct rates. The machinery was sufficiently accurate that it could be used to predict or replicate alignments of the planets on given dates.
A close-up of the Sayre School orrery’s gear train.
A “top view” of the gear train. These diagrams are from a French patent that was granted on the orrery.
This machinery causes the Earth to rotate, the moon to orbit, and the axis of the Earth to remain pointed toward the “north star”.
This machinery at the center of the orrery drives the motions of Mercury, Venus, and the Sun.
Around the outer ring are the months and days of the year. Presumably, once the orrery was calibrated, the handle could be set at a certain month and day and the positions of all the bodies of the inner solar system observed.
Representations of various zodiac constellations are also found on the outer ring.
Left—a brochure for the Barlow Planetarium (orrery). Right—illustration of the Barlow device at the Paris Exposition of 1867.
The orrery is said to be accurate enough to show the alignments of the planets on various days. For example, Thomas Barlow is said to have used one of his orreries to predict the evening alignment of the Moon, Venus, and Mercury on Christmas of 1851. The positions of these objects are shown here, as seen from Earth (left) and within the solar system (right). The Sayre School’s Barlow orrery was in need of work when the school donated it to the Kentucky Historical Society, so it may not be sufficiently functional to test it for accuracy.
*The title and abstract of Prof. Day's talk at the University of Notre Dame:
“The History and Conservation of the Barlow Planetarium” Abstract: In the mid-1800s, Thomas Harris Barlow—an agricultural industrialist and mechanical savant—designed an intricate and expansive mechanical model of the inner solar system. Barlow collaborated with James Dodd—mathematician and president of Transylvania University—to calculate the gearing, and labored for over a decade before arriving at his final design: a thirteen-foot diameter mechanism of wood, glass, filigreed cast iron, and precision gears. For nearly fifty years Barlow and his son, Milton, manufactured and marketed the planetarium, which was met with great acclaim. Unfortunately, the enormous stresses inherent in such a large instrument frequently led to mechanical failure. Recently, two examples have been beautiful conserved and returned to exhibit, and restoration of a third planetarium is underway. This talk will review the history of Barlow’s planetarium and the current state of the models that survive.
Waxing crescent moon with a well-defined terminator and a little Earthshine. Pastel sketch February 11th, 2008 200mm dob, 4.83 days. Deirdre Kelleghan
When the phrase "The Terminator" is mentioned in may conjour up ominous dark tones lurking within its meaning. A science fiction phrase where a cybernetic organism can ask for 'your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle’ then ride off to alter the course of humanity. Or the visually rich line that demarks daytime on the moon's surface from night-time on the moon's surface.
The terminator is far from a straight line, it is ragged and uniquely fluid. Sunlight illuminates unevenly as it fills craters. Shadows form and transform during its progression across the lunar topography. Craters that penetrate the terminator and show their rims as glints of light in the blackness bring a tactile quality to a sketch. Lunar sketching in the area of the terminator often brings up a dilemma . When a sketch takes several hours, sometimes the terminator vista alters to offer a new and brightly lit feature. This crater or mountain only revealed as you finish. Do you put it in or not ? In general if it adds to the sketch yes, if it is a mediocre addition no.
Recently I came across the moon drawing above in one of my portfolios . The sketch includes a very well-defined terminator and a touch of earthshine. The drawing was devoid of information , no day, date or time was written on the sheet. A bit of a hunt provided the basics, but not all information was available and my memory yielded very little. Sometimes I might publish a sketch in a forum or group. All the information relating to the drawing can be online but not necessarily on the actual drawing. Note to self and others, always write the sketch details on the work.
Along the terminator visual richness pulsates with abundance. Take a terminator tour with your telescope , it doesn't matter if it's a small or large instrument. It doesn't matter if you do not know the features that you are seeing. Just enjoy the moon for itself, identity of features can come later. Contrast is sublime, blacks are pure, whites are sharp and exciting. Watch sunlight gain lunar ground on a waxing moon. Feast your eyes as mountains reveal themselves in complex craters. Shadows will alter before your eyes, giving or taking away from the appearance of craters.
Sometimes even a 98% moon terminator can bring joy and results. A previous blog about drawing along the terminator tells that story from Dunsink Observatory Dublin. Eddington Crater on the Moon
This column for The Tablet first ran in May 2006; we first ran it here at The Catholic Astronomer in 2015. It has been one of the more popular postings...
“Believing that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism,” proclaimed a Scottish newspaper earlier this month , citing as its authority no less than “the Vatican Astronomer, Guy Consolmagno.” I was as surprised as anyone; though I do worry that creationism can tend towards paganism, I don’t remember being so blunt. Well, he was careful not to put those words into quotation marks.
Hard to come up with a good image to illustrate this column, so here's a sky photo I took in Edinburgh many years later...
But even if it is an accurate statement of what I believe, does it qualify as news? I’m not a theologian, much less a spokesperson for the Vatican. I’m an astronomer who happens to be a Jesuit, who happens to work at the Vatican. Of course, I have my opinions on matters of theology, but are they any more newsworthy than the opinions of a punter at the pub about the prospects of his favorite football team?
I got the feeling, talking to the Scottish reporter, that my everyday Catholic approach to science and religion was a shock to his prejudices. Rather than accepting that his old preconceptions were wrong, he decided that what I was saying must be something new. And, judging from the response his article got, those prejudices (and shocks) must be rather widespread.
Those words made it into the “blogosphere,” that virtual world of the Internet where people pass around jokes, recipes, and outrages of the day. I received a dozen angry e-mails from creationists, upset that I had called them pagans; and another dozen from pagans, angry that I had called them creationists. So far, no one has spoken up for the superstitious.
But why would I think that there was a connection between the Genesis 1 description of creation, and paganism? Actually, for several reasons. For instance, Genesis 1 speaks of God forming the universe out of a pre-existing chaos; taken by itself, it implies that God only forms rather than creates. By contrast, the later book of Maccabees (2 Macc 7:28) speaks matter-of-factly about God truly creating, ex nihilo, out of nothing. The former vision is closer to a pagan one; the latter, Christianity. (The Genesis 1 description also ends up with a flat Earth covered by a dome, a point that most creationists appear to ignore.)
Likewise, insisting on a universe that needs a direct intervention of God to accomplish some things but not others (thus leaving telltale “thumbprints” of that intervention), reduces God to not much more than a functional equivalent of Jupiter, god of thunder, or Ceres, goddess of grain. The Christian belief of a supernatural God places Him normally outside of nature (that’s what makes the Incarnation so special), yet ultimately responsible for all of it. In essence, it’s all thumbprints.
The Old Testament talks about God’s creation in many places, not just Genesis 1. To understand where the truth lies, you need to account for all these different descriptions, to avoid misunderstandings due to word choices, translation errors, etc. And you need to recognize the settings in which they were written, to account for systematic biases as might arise from taking words intended for the ears of wise, if unscientific, pastoral peoples and reading them as if they were instructions from an engineering textbook.
One of the most important lessons a scientist learns is not to be too swayed by one data point. We know that every measurement is afflicted with both random and systematic errors. You take lots of data, and hope the random errors average out. You compare your results against known points of truth, to detect and account for any systematic tilt. And at the end of the day, you still recognize that your final result is, at most, only probably true.
This parallel with theology should not be surprising. Theology was the first science; it taught science the rules of reason.
The Moon appears in the southwestern predawn sky near Jupiter on May 1st, and makes it way between Mars and Saturn in the southern sky on May 5th.
Southern sky at 5:00 AM, May 1, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Southern sky at 5:00 AM, May 5, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Ursa Major (and the Big Dipper) are in the northwestern predawn sky, and Arcturus is bright in the western sky.
Western sky at 5:00 AM, May 5, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Venus remains low in the western sky near sunset.
Western sky at 9:00 PM, May 1, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Jupiter can be seen rising the in the eastern sky after sunset.
Eastern sky at 10:00 PM, May 1, 2018. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.
Jupiter will be at opposition on May 9th - its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun, and it will be visible all night long! Sidewalk astronomers from around the world do a collective dance of joy!
Jupiter at Opposition May 9 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
The Moon May 1-7 2018. Visualizations by Ernie Wright
The Moon is a waning gibbous just past full; the Moon will be at third quarter on the 8th; May 7-10th would be good days to do some early morning sidewalk astronomy at schools!
The Sun has been spot-free for 2 days. There are coronal holes at both poles, and a small hole on the equator. There is an area with quite a bit of coronal loop activity rotating out of view on the Sun's limb. SpaceWeather.com says: "Solar wind flowing from this equatorial coronal hole should reach Earth on May 5th or 6th." The solar wind speed is 409 km/sec, with a density of 4.0 protons/cm3.
Over the last couple days, several small prominences in the Sun's chromosphere appear and vanish all over the Sun's limb; the equatorial coronal hole appears as a dark smudge, and the area of coronal loop activity above appears as the bright orange region in the image below.
In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits intersect at a single point--Earth.
The Solar System
This is the position of the planets in the solar system:
Position of the planets in the inner solar system, May 1, 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
Position of the planets in the inner and middle solar system, May 1, 2018. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
Confirmed Exoplanets: 3,725 (4/26/2018)
Multi-Planet Systems: 613 (4/26/2018)
Kepler Candidate Exoplanets: 4,496 (8/31/2017)
TESS Candidate Exoplanets: 0 Data from the NASA Exoplanet Archive
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched on April 18, 2018 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. TESS is the successor to the Kepler space telescope. From the TESS website:
TESS will discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest stars in the sky. In a two-year survey of the solar neighborhood, TESS will monitor more than 200,000 stars for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. This first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, around a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. No ground-based survey can achieve this feat.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.
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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)
When I was in seminary, one of my professors, Dr. David Fagerberg, explained that you can understand the Sacraments in one of two ways. The first way is to ask, What is it? This is an approach that is analogous to a frog dissection project, looking at definitions that address matter, form, substance, and presence. The second way is to ask, How are the Sacraments effective in our lives? This question explores themes like - What does it mean to say that Baptism removes all sin, personal and Original Sin? What does it mean when Jesus says unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you do not have life within you? What does it mean to say that Viaticum prepares the soul with the Anointing of the Sick and the final reception of the Eucharist to take life's ultimate journey from this life to eternity? An insight I gained was that we need to ask both type of questions to fully understand these avenues of grace we call Sacraments.
A similar distinction can be made when we try to explore the question, What does it mean to be human? One approach would be to explore the biology, chemistry, evolution, and physical characteristics that makes the human person distinct and similar to different species. At the same time, to limit one's understanding of the human person to these type of questions does not give us the full picture of what it means to be human. To borrow an image I have used before from Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, we can also ask the question, What does it mean to be a human person fully alive? Similar to my reflection on understanding the impact of the Sacraments in our lives, we need both type of questions, what is a living person and what is a person fully alive, to gain the full spectrum of what it means to be a person.
Below are four videos. The first is from the AAAS's program Science for Seminaries. The video explores the theme of evolution, both scientifically and culturally. The second video is also from the AAAS's Science for Seminaries program, exploring more deeply the scientific question of trying to understand what makes humanity distinct from and similar to other species. The third is more about the ethical understanding of the human person, seeing in Catholic Social Teaching the dimension of life that is not just the fact that we are here, but how we are to live as a human family. Lastly, I want to share a presentation Br. Guy gave at the University of Arizona, exploring the question, What is Life? As we explore these questions and approaches to what it means to be a human person, may we come to a deeper appreciation of what it means to be fully alive, made in God's Image and Likeness.
AAAS's Video On Biology
AAAS's Video To Be Human
Engaging Science in Seminaries: Catholic Social Teaching Part 1
There is a release of new astronomical data by the European Space Agency satellite called "Gaia." The main purpose of GAIA is to report accurate distances to stars
in the Milky Way. GAIA does this by measuring parallaxes.
This method relies on measuring what we might colloquially call "perspective." The idea is that a high precision snapshot of a nearby star will make a pattern on the sky with respect to its fixed stellar neighbors. If you then wait for six months and take another snapshot image of that same nearby star, you will see a slightly different pattern.
The Difference between the two images is called parallax.
Physically, what happens is that view of a nearby star against the background of fixed stars change when the Earth is one one side of its orbit compared to when the Earth is on the other side of its orbit. Similar an artist will paint a completely different picture of the same room depending on which corner the artist sits down.
The ancient Greeks attempted to measure parallaxes to nearby stars 2500 years ago, but failed. As a result, these scientists concluded that the Earth must be at the center of the Solar System. It was simply not realized at that time that even the nearest stars are so distant that our eyes cannot discern this difference in parallax (or in perspective).
The first parallax measurements would have to wait until the 19th century. But by this time we had already adopted the Sun-centered Solar System and figured out that the apparent lack of parallax was an indication of vast distances between us and the stars.
Moving forward to the 21st centure, what GAIA can bring us is parallax measurements not just of the nearest stars, but of 1.7 billion stars. Put another way, GAIA measured the distances to about one percent of the stars in the Milky Way.
Because many measurements were made over a five year period, this gives us the ability also to measure the motions of stars and the orbits of clumps of densely-packed stars called globular clusters. This is leading to a better understanding of our place in the Galaxy, and the data are offered for free to the public.