Divine Mercy

I care about God’s mercy because I’m a sinner. What that means depends on who says it.

I think and hope Jonathan Edwards meant well, and wish some of his imitators would be less enthusiastic. Or at least think about what he said.

Hollywood theology — I’d like to believe that many folks don’t get their religious education from the movies, and that’s another topic.

Basically, Americans have lots of options for what we think “sin” and “sinners” mean.

I’m a Catholic, so my view is ‘none of the above.’

Sinners, Sin, and Sense

I don’t think I’m so “saved” that I can do anything I want. Holy Willie is a really bad role model. (February 12, 2017; December 4, 2016)

I’m not “some loathsome insect,” either.

That sort of thing made “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” a bestseller, and still permeates American notions of Christianity. (March 5, 2017)

Two more ‘what I don’t think’ ideas, and I’ll move on.

I do not think “sin” is doing something from a list of activities I don’t like or can’t enjoy.

Gerard van Honthorst's Der verlorene, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.I certainly don’t think “sinners” are folks whose problems aren’t the ones I deal with, or those who don’t act just like me.

I think I’m a sinner because I don’t consistently do what I know is good for me, and avoid what’s bad. (Catechism, 1706, 1776, 1955)

Whenever I deliberately do something that makes no sense, hurting myself or someone else, I offend reason and truth; and God. That’s a sin, so I’m a sinner. (Catechism, 18491850)

I commit a sin whenever I don’t love God and my neighbor, and act as if everyone is my neighbor. (Matthew 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Matthew 5:4344; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2530; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)

Sins aren’t all alike. They’re all bad ideas, but some are worse than others. Lots worse. (Catechism, 18521864)

I can’t work or pray my way into Heaven, but what I do makes a difference. I’ve talked faith, works, and all that, before. (April 9, 2017; December 4, 2016)

Doing what’s right and avoiding what’s a bad idea would be a lot easier if the first of us hadn’t made a really bad decision. We’re still living with the consequences of that wrong turn. (Catechism, 396412)

But that doesn’t make humanity basically bad. What and who we are hasn’t changed.

Still “in the Divine Image”

We’re rational creatures. We can decide what we do, like angels. Unlike angels, we are also material creatures: spiritual beings with a body made from the stuff of this world. (Catechism, 311, 325348, 1704, 17301731)

Something went wrong, obviously. But the problem isn’t having bodies. God makes us, and this universe, and God doesn’t make junk. (Genesis 1:31; Catechism, 31, 299, 355)

We’re still made “in the divine image,” as Genesis 1:27 puts it.

The first of us — Adam and Eve aren’t German1 — decided to do what they wanted, even though it meant disobeying God. Then Adam tried blaming his wife, and God. Things went downhill from there. (Genesis 3:112)

Original sin, the Catholic view, is that we’re still made “in the divine image.” We started out in harmony with ourselves, with the world, and with God: but that harmony is broken.(Genesis 1:27, Genesis 3:53:13)

Human nature has been wounded: but not corrupted. (Catechism, 31, 299, 355361, 374379, 398, , 400406, 405, 17011707, 1949)

Love and Neighbors

Ideally, I would unceasingly love my neighbors, see everybody as my neighbor, and treat others as I want to be treated. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937)

I don’t.

Making wise choices would be easier if we weren’t living with consequences of a original sin, but that’s out of my hands.

My job is acting as if love and God matter. (Catechism, 407409, 17301738)

I can decide to do what is good: but it won’t be easy. (Catechism, 407409)

Trying to do what is right doesn’t set me apart from the rest of humanity.

We’re not divided into ‘good’ people who are like me and ‘bad’ people who aren’t. Life isn’t that simple.

“…But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners….”2
(“Visit to the Congress of the United States of America,” Pope Francis (September 24, 2015))


After the end of all things, I’ll be with our Lord in Heaven: or not. (Catechism, 10231029, 10331037, 10421050)

Where I go is up to me. Nobody’s dragged, kicking and screaming, into Heaven. At my particular judgment I could walk away from our Lord. It’s a daft option: but it is an option. (Catechism, 10211022)

I hope for mercy, so I try to forgive others. (Matthew 6: 12)

13 ‘Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.

“Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.’ ”
(Luke 6:3738)

Our Lord set a very high standard for forgiveness:

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
(Luke 23:34)

Forgiving others doesn’t mean ignoring trouble. Justice and mercy are both important. (Catechism, 1805, 1829, 1861, 19912011)

So is having good judgment. Judging whether an act is good or bad is a basic requirement for being human. It’s part of using my conscience. We’re even expected to think about the actions of others. (Catechism, 1778, 24012449)

That’s because sin isn’t just about me and God. I’m not loving my neighbor if I see nothing wrong with someone hurting my neighbor. (Catechism, 2196)

The idea is hating the sin, loving the sinner: and leaving the judging of persons to God. (Catechism, 1861)

It’s simple, and very far from easy. (April 16, 2017; April 9, 2017; November 29, 2016)

Before a quick overview of Divine Mercy Sunday, and the Divine Mercy devotion here in Sauk Centre; the best news we’ve ever had: God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

Divine Mercy Sunday

The Divine Mercy3 devotion started in Poland, where Saint Maria Faustyna (Faustina) Kowalska lived.

I’ve heard that official approval of the devotion took as long as it did in part because her diary was written in Polish. Folks at the Vatican had been reading a botched translation.

We eventually got a Polish pope, Pope Saint John Paul II, who could read the diary in its original Polish. That was good news for folks here in Sauk Centre, and elsewhere.

Divine Mercy Sunday is the Sunday following Easter, so it moves around the calendar a bit. This year it’s April 23, today.

There’s an image associated with the devotion, showing Jesus with two rays coming from our Lord’s wounded heart. One is red, the other white — representing blood and water. (John 19:34)

Sauk Centre, Minnesota, was dedicated to the Divine Mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday, 1982. That’s the year my wife and I married. It’s her home town, we moved here a few years later, and that’s yet another topic.

Our Divine Mercy devotion uses a carving my father-in-law made, based on St. Faustina’s picture. A photo like the one up there takes its place at St. Paul’s church, when the carving is on tour.

Pope St. John Paul II talked about the Divine Mercy, and what the red and white rays mean, when Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska was canonized:

“…‘Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever’ (Ps 118: 1). So the Church sings on the Octave of Easter, as if receiving from Christ’s lips these words of the Psalm; from the lips of the risen Christ, who bears the great message of divine mercy and entrusts its ministry to the Apostles in the Upper Room: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you…. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ (Jn 20: 2123).

“Before speaking these words, Jesus shows his hands and his side. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in his heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity. From that heart Sr Faustina Kowalska, the blessed whom from now on we will call a saint, will see two rays of light shining from that heart and illuminating the world: ‘The two rays’, Jesus himself explained to her one day, ‘represent blood and water’ (Diary, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, p. 132)….”
(“Canonization of Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska,” Pope John Paul II (April 30, 2000) (Divine Mercy Sunday) [emphasis mine])

There’s a Divine Mercy chaplet and a novena — and that’s yet again another topic.

More of my take on mercy, love, and living as if God matters:

1 I like most art, old and new, including Albrecht Albrecht Dürer’s Adam and Eve. But I don’t think Adam and Eve are German, or even European.

I think the Genesis account of our origin and fall is true.

I am also quite sure that this truth is told in figurative language. (Catechism, 390, –406)

2 Sin, original and otherwise —

ORIGINAL SIN: The sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God, choosing to follow their own will rather than God’s will. As a consequence they lost the grace of original holiness, and became subject to the law of death; sin became universally present in the world. Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, original sin describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the ‘new Adam,’ came to redeem us (396412).”

SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854).”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

3 More about mercy, the Divine Mercy devotion, and St. Mary Faustina Kowalska:

Posted in being Catholic | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking for Life: Enceladus and Gliese 1132 b

We haven’t found life on — or in — Enceladus. But we’ve found organic compounds in the Saturnian moon’s salt-water geysers.

Scientists detected an atmosphere around Gliese 1132 b, a planet about 39 light-years away. It’s Earth-like, in terms of size; but too hot for life as we know it. We’ll almost certainly learn a great deal, though, by studying its atmosphere.

LHS 1140 b: Super-Earth in a Habitable Zone

Thursday night, as I was finishing this post, I noticed that Harvard’s MEarth Project discovered another super-Earth; also about 39 light-years out: in the habitable zone of its star.

LHS 1140 b is about 1.4 times Earth’s diameter, with a mass 6.6 times our world’s. That makes it very roughly as dense as Earth, so it’s probably a rocky world, like Earth. I took a quick look at the paper published in the April 20, 2017, issue of Nature.1

LHS 1140 b is now on my list of upcoming topics: maybe for next week.

Abraham, Moses, and Minnesota

I take the Bible, Sacred Scripture, very seriously. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101133)

I don’t, however, insist on believing only what I find in the Bible. That’s just as well, since I live near the center of North America.

I’m pretty sure that Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Saint Peter, and the rest, didn’t know that the land I live on exists. But I’m quite sure that the State of Minnesota is real: even if it’s not “Biblical.”

I don’t, however, “believe in” Minnesota. Not in the sense that I expect it to give me a reason for living, or occupy the top of my priorities. I don’t “believe in” progress, science, or my computer’s operating system either. Not that way.

My priorities should be God first, everything else second. (Luke 10:27; Catechism, 2083, 2097, 21122114)

So how come I let myself think my wife matters, or take an interest in anything but doing every prayer, devotion, and other pious observance the Church has accumulated over the millennia?

For starters, I don’t think there’s time for one person, or one family, to do everything. (January 1, 2017; August 14, 2016)

Besides, although family isn’t top priority; it’s important. (Catechism, 21972233)

So is using the brains God gave us. (March 26, 2017)

Faith, Reason, and Questions

My interest in science isn’t a requirement. Using my brain is.

I’ve talked about ‘creation science,’ secondary causes, and getting a grip, before. (March 31, 2017; January 13, 2017; October 21, 2016)

Real-life equivalents of “The Church of Danae” notwithstanding, being curious, asking questions, is okay.

“Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air…. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look; we’re beautiful.’…
“…So in this way they arrived at a knowledge of the god who made things, through the things which he made.”
(Sermon 241, St. Augustine of Hippo (ca. 411) (from www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20000721_agostino_en.html (December 6, 2016))

Which reminds me: I think Adam and Eve are as real as I am. That’s also just as well, since I’m supposed to. (Catechism, 362, 390401)

But I’m quite sure that they’re not German. (September 23, 2016)

Since I’m a Catholic, it’s faith and reason. Noticing this wonder-filled universe will, if I’m doing it right, point me toward God. Faith, the Catholic version, isn’t reason. But it’s reasonable. (Catechism, 3135, 159, 282283)

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:89; 63:23; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2)….”
(“Fides et Ratio.” Pope Saint John Paul II (September 14, 1998))
(From vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.pdf (April 20, 2017))

Studying this universe and using our knowledge is okay. It was part of being human when it was called natural philosophy, and it still is, now that we’re calling it science. Wondering why we’re here is okay, too. (Catechism, 284, 341, 2293)

Deciding that God can’t exist, no matter what we see, not so much. (Catechism, 2088)

1. Enceladus: Ice, Water, and Maybe Life

(From NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Easy to sample: Jets of water spew from the south pole of Enceladus.”
(BBC News))

Saturn moon ‘able to support life’
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (April 13, 2017)

Saturn’s ice-crusted moon Enceladus may now be the single best place to go to look for life beyond Earth.

“The assessment comes on the heels of new observations at the 500km-wide world made by the Cassini probe.

“It has flown through and sampled the waters from a subsurface ocean that is being jetted into space.

“Cassini’s chemistry analysis strongly suggests the Enceladean seafloor has hot fluid vents – places that on Earth are known to teem with life.

“To be clear: the existence of such hydrothermal systems is not a guarantee that organisms are present on the little moon; its environment may still be sterile. But the new results make a compelling case to return to this world with more sophisticated instrumentation – technologies that can re-sample the ejected water for clear evidence that biology is also at play….”

Easy to sample,” as the photo’s caption puts it, is a comparative term.

Positioning a probe’s orbit to go through jets from the Enceladan south polar region should be straightforward. No more difficult than any other maneuver near one of the Solar System’s outer worlds, at any rate.

Designing a probe to remain undamaged while passing through the jets at orbital speeds should be possible. We’ve built spacecraft that re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and survive.

Collecting samples should also be fairly straightforward. The Stardust probe collected samples from comet 81P/Wild’s coma, returning to Earth in 2006.

Calling any of those steps “easy” is, I think, a tribute to the remarkable engineering we’re used to; but perhaps not entirely accurate.

But that’s arguably easier than designing a probe to land on Enceladus; drill through 30 to 40 kilometers, 19 to 25 miles, of ice; and collect samples.

Particularly since I’m pretty sure that scientists would want to be confident that the probe, drill, and sampler, didn’t contaminate Enceladus with critters from Earth.

Eventually, we’ll want to explore Enceladus in person, and that’s another topic.

Hats off to Jonathan Amos, for that “to be clear” paragraph.

Conditions that allow life don’t necessarily mean that life is present. I’ll grant that we’ve gotten used to finding life just about everywhere near Earth’s surface: including places we thought were uninhabitable.

We’ve found living critters beneath a half-mile of antarctic glacier, and in the liquid asphalt of Pitch Lake. Cryptococcus neoformans is a sort of yeast found growing in what’s left of the Chernobyl reactor. That yeast may be using the reactor’s energy for growth.

Someone named MacElroy or McElroy came up with “extremophile” to describe critters living in places we thought they couldn’t. (“Bioactive Natural Products,” Atta-ur- Rahman, editor, p. 1126 (2006); via Google Books)

My guess is that it’s William D. McElroy, but I haven’t confirmed that.

Life as We Know It: Currently

(From WHOI/NSF/NASA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“On Earth, the microbes at vents support a range of more complex organisms”
(BBC News))

We got the first evidence of hot spots on Earth’s ocean floor in 1949, in the Red Sea. The unexpectedly hot seawater’s existence was confirmed in the 1960s.

We were pretty sure nothing could survive there. The water was too hot, and too saline.

In 1977 researchers took the DSV Alvin down for a close look at the hydrothermal vents on the Galápagos Rift, a spur of the East Pacific Rise.

There were very odd critters thriving there, like Alvinella pompejana, the Pompeii worm. Now scientists are discussing whether life might have started near hydrothermal vents.

Definitions for life-as-we-know-it have been stretched considerably since my high school days. (March 3, 2017)

Encelandan Geysers: Salt Water and Organic Compounds

(From NASA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

“…’We’re pretty darn sure that the internal ocean of Enceladus is habitable and we need to go back and investigate it further,’ said Cassini scientist Dr Hunter Waite from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

“‘If there is no life there, why not? And if there is, all the better. But you certainly want to ask the question because it’s almost as equally as interesting if there is no life there, given the conditions,’ he told BBC News.

“The sub-surface ocean on Enceladus is thought to be many kilometres deep, kept liquid by the heat generated from the constant gravitational squeezing the moon receives from the mighty Saturn….”
(Jonathan Amos, Jonathan Amos, BBC News)

There’s more than speculation behind the idea that Enceladus may have hydrothermal vents on its ocean floor. A 2005 flyby detected more infrared at the moon’s south pole than could be explained by sunlight. Something inside was providing heat.

“Constant gravitation squeezing” is one of the probable heat sources.

Tidal heating should be happening, but a 2007 study said that it was probably adding 1.1 gigawatts to the 4.7 gigawatts indicated by Cassini’s sensors.

Maybe Enceladus was in a more eccentric orbit at some point, and what we’re observing is heat left over from that era. Heat from radioactive materials is another likely explanation. But the numbers show that there’s almost certainly something more heating the moon.

Where all the heat comes from is one of many things we don’t know. Not yet.

One thing we’re more certain about is that Europa has a subsurface ocean, and that it’s global. The way it wobbles or nods as it orbits Saturn, its libration, makes more sense if we assume that the moon’s crust isn’t attached to its interior.

Like I keep saying, don’t bother memorizing these terms, there won’t be a test

Since sunlight hits those geysers near the Enceladan south pole, and probes orbiting Saturn were ‘watching’ them, we have a pretty good idea of what’s shooting out of that moon.

I’ve talked about spectroscopy before, and put a possibly-excessive set of links near the end of this post.2 (March 3, 2017)

Water from Enceladan geysers isn’t pure. There’s salt, silica-rich sand, nitrogen (in ammonia), and organic molecules: including traces of simple hydrocarbons like methane, propane, acetylene, and formaldehyde.

Organic stuff doesn’t always come from living critters, but our sort of life can’t happen without organic compounds. I’ve talked about what’s organic and what’s not, life, vitalism, science, being Catholic, and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” before. (September 9, 2016)

“…We Need to Go Back….”

The salty, methane and formaldehyde-laced Enceladan water would need processing before I’d drink it, but I’m human.

Earth’s seawater isn’t a particularly safe drink for me: too much salt. And Earth’s ocean is teeming with life.

A great many critters live and thrive in environments that would kill me.

I talked about extremophiles earlier. I also think Dr. Waite is right:

“…’We’re pretty darn sure that the internal ocean of Enceladus is habitable and we need to go back and investigate it further,’ said Cassini scientist Dr Hunter Waite….

“…’If there is no life there, why not? And if there is, all the better. But you certainly want to ask the question because it’s almost as equally as interesting if there is no life there, given the conditions,’….”
(Jonathan Amos, Jonathan Amos, BBC News)

If we do find life in Enceladus, I’m not expecting people. I’d be excited if we found microbes that clearly didn’t have their origins here on Earth.

I’m also quite sure that we’d see many different reactions to the news.

I’ve talked about Thomas Paine, Brother Guy Consolmagno, science, and “greater admiration” before. (April 14, 2017; March 17, 2017; December 23, 2016)

2. Gliese 1132 b: (Somewhat) Earth-Like

(From Dana Berry, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Artist’s impression of GJ 1132b: The planet’s thick atmosphere may contain water or methane”
(BBC News))

Atmosphere found around Earth-sized planet GJ 1132b
Rebecca Morelle, BBC News (April 6, 2017)

Scientists say they have detected an atmosphere around an Earth-sized planet for the first time.

“They have studied a world known as GJ 1132b, which is 1.4-times the size of our planet and lies 39 light years away.

“Their observations suggest that the ‘super-Earth’ is cloaked in a thick layer of gases that are either water or methane or a mixture of both.

The study is published in the Astronomical Journal….”

GJ 1132 is smaller and cooler than our sun. The GJ stands for Gliese. BBC News could have called the star Gl 1132, too, and that’s yet another topic.

GJ 1132 b’s orbit puts it between its star and us once each of its years. That’s about 39 and a half hours.

It orbits Gliese 1132 at about 1,400,000 miles; 0.0154 Astronomical Units, the distance from Earth to our sun.

Since it crosses the face of its sun from our vantage point, scientists can tell how wide it is. Measuring how much Gliese 1132 wobbles as the planet orbits gives the planet’s mass.3

Gliese 1132 b is about 1.6 times as massive as Earth, and 1.2 times wider. That gives it a density very close to our home’s. It’s very likely made of the same stuff as the Solar System’s terrestrial planets: mostly rock and metal.

I’m not sure where the BBC News article got 1.4 as its size: maybe as an average the mass and diameter comparisons, or data from a source I didn’t see.

It could be a water world, or ocean planet; a hypothetical type of planet that’s entirely covered by water.

We don’t know that ocean planets exist, but that’s one tentative explanation scientists have for what they’ve observed: planets like Gliese 1214 b, a super-Earth discovered in 2009.

Gliese 1132 b is ‘Earth-like,’ but not habitable. Venus is even more Earth-like, with 0.81 our home’s mass and 0.95 Earth’s diameter. Its surface probably cooler than Gliese 1132 b’s, too. I’ll get back to that.

Water, Maybe Methane

When scientists discovered Gliese 1132 b, they realized that we could learn a great deal from the planet.

Crossing its star’s face, and orbiting on of the nearer stars, they figured we could tell whether it had an atmosphere, and what the atmosphere was like.

They were right, at least as far as confirming that Gliese 1132b has an atmosphere goes. We still don’t know what’s in the atmosphere, but water vapor and methane are very likely candidates. Whatever’s there, the planet won’t support life. Not as we know it.

Gliese 1132 b is too close to its star to be like Star Trek’s Class M planets — which generally looked like southern California from the surface.

Scientists figure the top of Gliese 1132b’s atmosphere is around 533 K, 260 °Centigrade, 500 °Fahrenheit; probably hotter at the surface.

At its surface, Venus is 737 K, 462 °C, 867 °F.

Even if Gliese 1132 b is tidally locked, with one face always facing its star, we’ve learned that an atmosphere distributes temperature effectively.

Life as we know it would die quite promptly on Gliese 1132 b. Life not-as-we-know it, maybe fluorosilicone in fluorosilicone or fluorosilicone in sulfur, might. That’s assuming that such life exists. (March 3, 2017)

There’s More to Learn

GJ 1132, this planet’s sun, is in the constellation Vella: not quite half-way to Mu Velorum. GJ 1132 is 12.04 parsecs away, give or take 0.24: which works out to 39 light-years, maybe a bit more.

The “artist’s impression of GJ 1132b” isn’t as ‘artistic’ as some illustrations of other planets I’ve seen, but Dana Berry exercised artistic license.

GJ 1132 is cooler than our star, but it wouldn’t look like that.

That’s okay, since the illustration is there to get a reader’s attention; which it does effectively. Which is probably why Phys.org used this illustration last year. (September 2, 2016)

Although GJ 1132 is a great deal cooler than our star, it’s still hot. It’s a red dwarf, spectral type M3.5D. It’s surface is 3,270 K, 2,997 °C, 5,426 °F.

Our sun’s surface is 5,772 K, 5,498.9 °C, 9,930 °F. I’ve talked about stars and colors before. (July 29, 2016)

GJ 1132’s visible surface is about the color of a tungsten halogen light bulb: ‘warmer’ than sunlight here on Earth; but ‘cooler’ than light from a candle or incandescent bulb.

And certainly far from the deep, rich, red of that illustration.

Because they’re cooler than our star, a red dwarf’s habitable zone is much smaller than our star’s. That’s assuming that planets circling red dwarf stars could be habitable. That sort of star has flares as powerful as ours: and ‘habitable’ planets would be a lot closer than Earth.

I think we’re currently learning how much we have left to learn about life in the universe.4 (September 2, 2016; March 3, 2017; ; September 2, 2016; July 29, 2016)

More opportunities for admiring God’s work:

1 Another maybe-habitable world:

2 Enceladus, Europa, and a little science:

3 More about Gliese 1132 and studying exoplanets:

4 Stars, planets, and (maybe) life:

Posted in science news | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Eighth Day: Two Millennia and Counting

Easter is when we celebrate “the crowning truth of our faith in Christ.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 638)

It’s among the top major events so far. Depending on how you count them, there have been only three to six: the creation of this universe; humanity’s creation and fall; and our Lord’s arrival, execution, and resurrection.

There’s another big one coming, eventually: the Last Judgment.1 I take Matthew 24:36, 44; Matthew 25:13; Mark 13:3233 quite seriously, so I don’t try second-guessing God the Father. (December 11, 2016; August 7, 2016)

The idea that the Son of God was human and divine has seemed insufficiently ‘spiritual’ to some folks for two millennia now. But like John 1:14 says,2 “…the Word became flesh….”

The crucifixion, and what happened later, wouldn’t mean much otherwise. (Catechism, 457, 461463)

Cosmic Scale

We’ve known that God’s creation was big and old, and been impressed, for a long time. Over the last few centuries, we’ve learned that it’s immensely bigger and older than we thought.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft.”
(Psalms 19:2)

3 Terrible and awesome are you, stronger than the ancient mountains.”
(Psalms 76:5)

3 Raise your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth below; Though the heavens grow thin like smoke, the earth wears out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies, My salvation shall remain forever and my justice shall never be dismayed.”
(Isaiah 51:6)

4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
(Wisdom 11:2225)

Turns out that the “ancient mountains” aren’t all that old. Not on a cosmic scale.

I don’t see a problem with that.

Even if I did; I hope I’d have the sense to figure that God’s God, I’m not, and that my job doesn’t include telling God how the universe should work.

I believe that God is infinite and eternal, almighty and ineffable: beyond our power to describe or understand. (Catechism, 202, 230)

Understanding how this universe works may be another matter, and that’s another topic. (December 9, 2016)

As I see it, what we’re learning about the cosmic scale of this creation is cause for greater admiration of God’s work, and that’s yet another topic. (October 28, 2016; September 23, 2016; July 15, 2016)

Wounded, but Basically Good

I’ve said this before: God doesn’t make junk. The universe is basically good. So are we — basically. (Genesis 1:2627, 31; Catechism, 31, 299)

The first of us — Adam and Eve aren’t German — listened to Satan, ignoring what God had said.

Then Adam tried blaming his wife, and God; which did not end well. (Genesis 3:513)

That happened a very, very long time ago. We’ve been living with the disastrous consequences of their decision ever since. (Catechism, 396412)

But humanity is still made “in the divine image.” (Genesis 1:27)

Loving ourselves, others, and God is a struggle because the harmony we had with ourselves and with the universe is broken. Our nature is wounded: but not corrupted. (Catechism, 355361, 374379, 398, 400, 405, 17011707, 1949)

True God and True Man

About two thousand years ago, our Lord arrived:

“For God so loved the world that he gave 7 his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn 8 the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
(John 3:1617)

Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Reactions at the time were mixed.

Shepherds and Magi thought it was good news, Herod didn’t, and that’s yet again another topic. (January 15, 2017)

Like I said earlier, the Word had become Flesh, true God and true man. (John 1:14; Catechism, 456478)

Anguish, Betrayal, Blood, and Death

We reviewed Mathew’s account of our Lord’s final Passover meal last week; and kept reading until Matthew 27:66, where guards sealed Christ’s tomb.

Friday’s Gospel, John 18:119:42, was similarly uncheerful:

1 2 When he had said this, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered.”

“So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.”
(John 18:1, 19:42)

All four Gospels agree on what happened next, although the accounts don’t quite match up: by American standards.3

1 2 3 On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.”
(John 20:1)

Our Lord had stopped being dead. (December 25, 2016; November 27, 2016)

That’s where it gets interesting.

The Eighth Day: Life, Death – – –

Two millennia later, we’re still celebrating.

Pope St. John Paul II called the Resurrection of Jesus “the fundamental event upon which Christian faith rests … the fulcrum of history.”4

Death, physical death, happens: but it is not the end. (Catechism, 1007, 10101014, 1022, 1682)

7 8 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

9 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.

“For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,”
(1 Corinthians 15:2022)

What happens next depends on whether or not we decide to accept or reject God’s grace. What we’ve done with our life matters, too. (John 14:15; 2 Timothy 1:910; James 2:1419; Catechism, 10211022, 19872016)

What our Lord expects is simple, but not easy.

I should love God, love my neighbor, see everyone as my neighbor, treat others as I want to be treated. (Matthew 7:12, Matthew 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Matthew 5:4344; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2530; Catechism, 1825)

I try to love God and neighbor because I follow the Man who is God.

Jesus died in my place; descended to the abode of the dead; rose from the tomb; and lives today and forever. (Matthew 28:110; Mark 16:111; 1 Peter 4:6; Catechism, 631635, 638655)

By any reasonable standard, that’s a big deal.

– – – and Beyond

We are living in the eighth day of creation: and have been for two millennia. . It is a day of life and hope. (Catechism, 349, 1166, 2174)

There’s more to being a Christian than celebrating and waiting for our Lord’s return. I’m expected to live as if loving my neighbors and loving God matter.

Truly respecting the “transcendent dignity” of humanity, and each person, isn’t easy: but it’s something I must do. (Catechism, 1929)

Part of our job is also building a better world for future generations. It starts within each of us, in me, with an ongoing “inner conversion.” (Catechism, 1888, 19281942)

We’ve made some progress: and have a very great deal left to do.

Like I keep saying, my guess is that we’ll still be waiting and working when the 8.2 kiloyear event, Y2K, and Y10K are seen as roughly contemporary. (February 5, 2017; November 27, 2016; October 30, 2016)

But the war is over. We won. We’re already in “the last hour,” and have been for two thousand years. This world’s renewal is in progress, and nothing can stop it. (Matthew 16:18; Mark 16:6; Catechism, 638, 670)

More of my take on the best news ever:

1 Our Lord’s return, and the Final Judgment, will happen: and is the next major event. As for when it’s coming — I have enough on my plate, without trying to outguess God.

(From Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur, used w/o permission.)

More of my take on Final Judgment and getting a grip:

2 Reading the Bible is a very Catholic thing:

“The Church ‘forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.112
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 133)

It’s literally ‘Catholicism 101:’

3 As I keep saying, Sacred Scripture wasn’t written from a contemporary Western viewpoint:

4 From Pope Saint John Paul II’s “Dies Domini” (Day of the Lord):

“…The Resurrection of Jesus is the fundamental event upon which Christian faith rests (cf. 1 Cor 15:14). It is an astonishing reality, fully grasped in the light of faith, yet historically attested to by those who were privileged to see the Risen Lord. It is a wondrous event which is not only absolutely unique in human history, but which lies at the very heart of the mystery of time. In fact, ‘all time belongs to [Christ] and all the ages’, as the evocative liturgy of the Easter Vigil recalls in preparing the Paschal Candle. Therefore, in commemorating the day of Christ’s Resurrection not just once a year but every Sunday, the Church seeks to indicate to every generation the true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery of the world’s origin and its final destiny leads….”
(“Dies Domini,” Pope Saint John Paul II (Pentecost, May 31, 1998))

More about the Resurrection:

Posted in being Catholic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mars: Leaky Red Planet

What we’re learning about Mars, and a new type of really small spacecraft, reminded me of earth, air and kilts.

Also pharaohs, Thomas Paine, and Lord Kelvin. By then I was running out of time to write something more tightly-organized.

I figured you might be interested in some of what I have written. On the other hand, maybe not. So I added links to my ramblings before and after what I said more-or-less about the science news, and figure you can decide what’s interesting and what’s not.

Earth, Air, and Kilts: Also Lord Kelvin

Earth’s atmosphere is roughly 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide; plus traces of neon, helium, and methane.

That’s not including water vapor. Depending on where you are and what time you take the sample, that varies from 0.001% to 5%.

Sometimes it feels like the air is about 125% water, and that’s another topic.

Many folks are more concerned these days about Earth’s atmosphere than in my youth.

We’ve learned quite a bit since 1898, when Lord Kelvin told a reporter that if we kept going through coal and wood at the late-19th-century’s rate, we’d have burned all Earth’s fuel in 500 years.1

That wasn’t the bad news.

According to the British peer, we were using up Earth’s oxygen so fast that we’d run out in 400 years.

And you thought global warming/climate change was bad!

Lord Kelvin’s math was accurate. His assumptions weren’t, entirely. For one thing, we’ve learned about Earth’s oxygen cycle since then.

I still think developing more efficient gadgets, and looking for the next practical energy source, makes sense.

Outlawing ‘scary’ technology, or deciding that there are too many humans, not so much. (February 17, 2017; February 10, 2017; August 12, 2016)

I’ll admit to a bias. I’m human, and arguably among those who are not sufficiently useful and fit to deserve life. ‘Improving’ humanity has been tried, with regrettable results, and that’s yet anther topic. (August 14, 2016)

In fairness, some tech really is dangerous; or too hard to dispose of safely. I’ve talked about PCBs before, but not asbestos. (February 17, 2017)

Maximilian I apparently thought wheellocks were too dangerous to let Austrians own them; and King George II defended England by banning tartans and kilts in Scotland. That law was repealed, finally, in 1782.

On the other hand, Bhutan’s government passed the Driglam namzha laws in 1989, making traditional Bhutanese dress compulsory in some settings. And that’s yet again another topic.

Change Happens, and Early Planetary Atmospheres

Earth’s atmosphere hasn’t always been like it is now.

We’ve learned a great deal since the 1700s, when some natural philosophers suggested that the Solar System might have started as a rotating cloud of gas and dust.

It wasn’t until after my youth that observations and better math made the nebular hypothesis the preferred model. Getting decent images of ‘nearby’ protoplanetary disks helped.

I think the one around Beta Pictoris was the first, in 1984. That’s an infrared image of the one around HL Tauri, taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. (December 23, 2016; December 9, 2016)

We’re pretty sure that our Solar System’s planets all started with hydrogen atmospheres.

Mostly hydrogen, that is. Water vapor, ammonia, and methane, among other chemicals, would have been in the mix. Big, distant, worlds like Jupiter and Saturn stayed old enough to keep most of their original gasses. Earth didn’t.

Earth was gassy, early on. Volcanoes, and — probably — volatile-rich asteroids gave our home its ‘second atmosphere.’ We’re still not sure about the Late Heavy Bombardment.

Comets have been falling from the sky at odd intervals, too; which may or may not be where much of Earth’s water came from. “Not” is the prevailing opinion, but that could change as we learn more.

The current mix started forming as plate tectonics kicked in, and critters started making changes. That caused Earth’s first environmental crisis, although I’m the only one who I know of who calls it that.

Cyanobacteria , or critters like them, started dumping oxygen some 2,300,000,000 years back, give or take. The Great Oxygen Event was great for us, eventually, but lethally bad for obligate anaerobes. (September 30, 2016; September 2, 2016)

I’ll be calling it the GOE; mainly because that’s shorter, and I like acronyms.

After the Great (For Us) Oxygen Event

We’re not entirely sure what set off the GOE. Photosynthesizing microcritters almost certainly were major players, quite possibly helped along by a variety of processes we didn’t know about until recently.

Besides setting off an extinction event, the newly-present oxygen would have reacted with methane, producing carbon dioxide and water. Carbon dioxide isn’t as effective a greenhouse gas as methane, which helps explain why the Hurorian glaciation started.

That was the longest ice age we know of, and apparently set off another extinction event, or kept the oxygen-sparked one going.

We didn’t know that extinction happened until the 1700s — according to a Forbes article by David Bressan. That’s when folks putting together facts and speculations about fossils started thinking about why some of the critters weren’t around now.

One of the fossils was a set of outsize antlers, found in Ireland. An Irish priest, Bressan said, Thomas Molyneux, figured big antlers were from a critter that didn’t live in Ireland any more. But molyneux thought the critter was probably still around somewhere else.

That made sense back in 1695, when Europeans were learning how much of Earth they hadn’t known about. Later, when European explorers were running of unknown new lands, not so much.

Bressan’s Irish priest sounds like Thomas Molyneux, an Irish doctor born in 1661.

He’s also credited with publishing the first scientific description of the Irish elk. That critter’s binomial name is Megaloceros giganteus, and I’ve talked about Linnaeus before. (September 23, 2016)

T. Molyneux is the chap folks at the California Museum of Paleontology think identified the Irish elk, and helped get scientists thinking about evolution. Dr. M. didn’t get everything right, though:

“…In the words of Dr. Thomas Molyneux, the first scientist to describe the Irish elk:

“That no real species of living creatures is so utterly extinct, as to be lost entirely out of the World, since it was first created, is the opinion of many naturalists; and ’tis grounded on so good a principle of Providence taking care in general of all its animal productions, that it deserves our assent.”

“Molyneux erroneously identified the Irish elk with the American moose…”
(a href=”http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/artio/irishelk.html”>California Museum of Paleontology)

William Molyneux, an Irish priest, was born in 1685. That would make him about 10 years old in 1695: a bit young to be writing about extinct critters, and that’s still another topic.

In 1796 French naturalist George Cuvier said that a newly described species of elephant was an extinct creature, unlike any living species.

He had evidence to back it up. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach called the critter Elephas primigenius. Most folks call it the wooly mammoth.

But mammoths aren’t mentioned much, since the last ones died around the time Thutmose was taking territory back from Nubia and Carchemish on the Euphrates.

Recent Changes, and More Than You Need To Know About Pharaohs

(Hatshepsut’s temple, refurbished and currently maintained as an historic site.)

Maybe Nubia’s king thought it was a good time to reclaim land earlier Pharaohs had taken. He was wrong about that, fatally, another Nubian effort failed with pretty much the same result a few years later.

I haven’t learned the name of that Nubian King. My guess is that most of the records we have of him are from official Egyptian archives, which weren’t particularly interested in whoever wasn’t in charge at the moment.

My word for Egypt’s top leaders, pharaoh, is what happened to the Egyptian word (par-ʕoʔ, probably) after passing through Greek (Φερων) and Hebrew (פרעה), Greek again (φαραώ, this time), Late Latin (pharaō), and English (pharao).

England’s King James put the Hebrew “h” back in, and that’s where we are today. A few millennia from now, I suspect my language will still be around. If it is, I’m quite sure it will have changed.

Although history usually gets presented as a succession of wars, I gather that most of the time Nubians and Egyptians got along about as well as neighbors anywhere.

Hence trade, cultural exchange, and intermarriage among Nubians and Egyptians; punctuated by intermittent warfare.

My civilization didn’t start realizing that Africa had a significant history until my lifetime, so we haven’t put many of the pieces together yet. Better late than never, I think.

My guess is that Egypt of the pharaohs is more of an African civilization than the ‘Western’ folks centered on the Indus and Mesopotamian regions.

The Kush Kingdom lasted a little longer than ancient Egypt.

That’s Mentuhotep III, not Thutmose.

We don’t know much about Mentuhotep I, who lived during one of Egypt’s major speed bumps. If I was taking a History test, I’d say it was the First Intermediate Period, about 41 centuries back.

There was another one, 36 centuries back, give or take a few.

The third happened when the Late Bronze Age collapse reached Egypt. Egypt ended up as part of the Achaemenid Empire.

Egyptians who weren’t part of the Achaemenid system were happy to see Alexander the Great take over.

Alexander the Great died before tying his empire together. Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander’s generals, pulled Egypt out of that mess, and was accepted as a pharaoh.

My guess is that pharaonic Egypt would have recovered and be around today, if another major power hadn’t been around. The Roman Republic was built on what I think are good ideas. Like every other effort, it wasn’t perfect. But for nearly five centuries it brought a measure of peace and prosperity to much of the Mediterranean basin.

My the time our Lord showed up — I’ll be talking about that elsewhere — the Roman Senate had schemed and assassinated themselves into a corner.

They named one of their members “dictator perpetuo,” hoping that Julius Caesar would solve their problems. He was doing that when some well-meaning, or disgruntled, Senators killed him.

The Final War of the Roman Republic rolled over Egypt around 30 BC. The Republic became an empire, which lasted a little over five centuries. We haven’t had that level of stability since. Stability isn’t everything, but it can be a good idea.

Some developments over the last century are hopeful, I think. And that’s — what else? — another topic. (October 30, 2016; September 25, 2016)

1. Martian Air

(From NASA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Artwork: Mars today is cold and dry (L) but it have been very different billions of years ago (R)”
(BBC News))

Most of Mars’ air was ‘lost to space’
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (March 31, 2017)

It is clear now that a big fraction of the atmosphere of Mars was stripped away to space early in its history.

“A new analysis, combining measurements by the Maven satellite in orbit around the Red Planet and the Curiosity rover on its surface, indicate there was probably once a shroud of gases to rival even what we see on Earth today.

“The composition would have been very different, however.

“The early Martian air, most likely, had a significant volume of carbon dioxide.

“That would have been important for the climate, as the greenhouse gas might have been able to warm conditions sufficiently to support nascent lifeforms….”

Let’s say we find life on Mars: or learn that there was life there. What would that mean?

I’m pretty sure that would depend on who’s talking. I’d most likely be fascinated, excited, eager to learn more; and recognize the discovery as another opportunity for greater admiration of God’s work. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 283)

But I’m a Christian and a Catholic who isn’t upset that whoever wrote Joshua and Job didn’t know about Kepler’s work. I’ve talked about Psalms, Ptolemy, and getting a grip, before. (December 2, 2016; July 29, 2016)

Others might decide that Thomas Paine was right. (December 23, 2016)

Paine has been called an English-American activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary; and a rabble-rousing troublemaker. Again, it depends on who’s talking.

Christopher Hitchens’ “Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’: A Biography” recognizes that folks often think and write as if they’re living in the era they’re living in.

That shouldn’t be surprising, but like I said: I’m not upset that the Old Testament isn’t written from a 20th-century scientist’s viewpoint.

Or 34th-century philosopher’s, for that matter.

Anyway, here’s what Hitchens wrote about Paine:

“…Paine was an engineer and amateur scientist, and stood on tiptoe to see as far as he could over the existing horizon. He half-understood the concept of infinity and the infinite plurality of possible other galaxies, but he could not leave hold of the idea that this made the terrestrial much more unique, rather than quite possibly less….” (p. 133, via Google Books)

I’m not surprised at Paine’s views. He was born on January 29, 1736 or February 9, 1737, depending on which calendar you use. (March 24, 2017)

His father was a Quaker, his mother an Anglican.

Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” came out in 1741. Thomas was about four at the time, and living with his parents in Norfolk, England; so I’m pretty sure he didn’t read it at the time.

Edward’s sermon left a lasting impression, though, so I’m sure Paine ran into Edward’s version of Calvinism. That mix of ideas is still echoing in America’s religious assumptions. (March 5, 2017)

The first part of Paine’s “Age of Reason” came out about 53 years after Edward’s “God … abhors you” bestseller. Paine’s “…Reason” was a bestseller, too; and echoes of it’s ideas are, if anything, a bit easier to hear these days.

Thomas Paine

Paine spends part of two sections in “…Reason,” Part First, saying that Christianity actively suppressed scientific progress. I think I understand how he came to that conclusion, but I don’t agree.

I’ve talked about Saints Hildegard of Bingen and Albertus Magnus, autopsies, and H. P. Lovecraft, before. (March 31, 2017; December 16, 2016; July 15, 2016)

Paine starts the next section starts by saying that someone can either take Christianity seriously, or accept what folks were learning about the universe. That’s an oversimplification:

“…the story of Eve and the apple, and the counterpart of that story, the death of the Son of God, that to believe otherwise, that is, to believe that God created a plurality of worlds, at least as numerous as what we call stars, renders the Christian system of faith at once little and ridiculous, and scatters it in the mind like feathers in the air. The two beliefs cannot be held together in the same mind, and he who thinks that he believes both, has thought but little of either….”
(“Age of Reason,” Part First, Section 12, Thomas Paine (1794) via ushistory.org)

I don’t blame Paine for seeing Christianity that way.

He grew up in a country whose ruler had kicked over the traces two and a half centuries before, setting up a national church; and Europe was recovering from the Thirty Years War. (November 6, 2016; October 28, 2016)

About two centuries after Paine, some — not all — Christians had conniptions about evolution. We’re dealing with the same weirdness in the second decade of the 21st century.(October 28, 2016; August 14, 2016)

Life, the Universe, and Doing Our Job

I don’t think that life emerged on Mars, or that Mars never harbored life. Like I keep saying, we don’t know. Not yet.

The odds have been looking much better in recent years, from a low point after 1965. That’s when when Mariner 4 sent back images of craters, detected no planetary magnetic field, and surface atmospheric pressure well below ‘best case’ estimates. We’ve learned quite a bit since then. (September 30, 2016)

We still don’t know about life on Mars, but it’s become increasingly difficult to say there can’t have been life there.

And if we don’t find Life on Mars, we’ve found favorable locations in and beyond the Solar System’s asteroid belt.

We’ve also started charting promising destinations around other stars. (March 3, 2017; September 30, 2016; September 2, 2016; July 29, 2016)

I think it’s very likely that we’ll find life somewhere beyond Earth. But I won’t say that there must, or must not, be life elsewhere in the universe. That’s up to God. Part of our job is learning what’s out there. (Catechism, 159, 282286, 341, 22922296)

I’ve talked about God, Aristotle, 1277, and getting a grip, before. (December 16, 2016; December 2, 2016)

2. The Lost Ocean of Mars: Maybe

(From Science Photo Library, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Did early Mars have a vast northern ocean?”
(BBC News))

Impact crater linked to Martian tsunamis
Paul Rincon, BBC News (March 26, 2017)

Scientists have located an impact crater linked to powerful tsunamis that swept across part of ancient Mars.

“The team believe an asteroid triggered 150m-high waves when it plunged into an ocean thought to have existed on northern Mars three billion years ago.

“Lomonosov crater in the planet’s northern plains fits the bill as the source of tsunami deposits identified on the surface….”

A Martian ocean isn’t news. Evidence of a tsunami is literally last year’s news. Scientists reported landforms in the Ismenius Lacus quadrangle where the simplest explanation was that at least two whacking great waves rearranged boulders. That was in May of 2016.

Finding a probable impact point where the tsunamis started, that’s news.

About the Martian ocean: We’re still not absolutely sure, but robots like Curiosity have been finding rocks that form in water.

Scientists have worked out some variously-improbable scenarios where water isn’t involved, or where there’s only enough water to form a molecule-thick film.

My guess is that the simpler explanations are more likely: and that Mars once had water. Which may still be there. That would make self-sustaining outposts there much easier to set up. (September 30, 2016)

We also don’t know for sure if Mars had enough water to make an ocean. But again, explanations for what’s being found are simpler with water.

There are possible non-water explanations for the river channels and deltas we’re finding, but it does look like they’re what’s left of rivers flowing to lakes and an ocean.

Whether or not the Mars ocean hypothesis is eventually proven, we’ve got names for it: the Paleo-Ocean and Oceanus Borealis. Either way, it would have filled the basin Vastitas Borealis in the Martian northern hemisphere.

If there was a Martian ocean, it was most likely drying up between 4,000,000,000 and 3,800,000,000 years ago. Give or take.

If life got started on Mars, and developed at anything like the speed it did here on Earth, there wasn’t time for Barsoomians to appear. (December 16, 2016)

We might, however, find traces of microbes. Or we may find that life on Earth isn’t particularly close to the 50th percentile. (March 3, 2017)

Changing Air

Like I said earlier, Earth’s atmosphere is about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide; plus traces of other gasses. That’s not including water vapor, anything from around 0.001% to 5%.

Our home’s air wasn’t always like that.

Like everything else we’re finding, it’s been changing. I could kvetch that “it’s not in the Bible,” but that doesn’t make sense, not to me. Accepting that the creation we’re in is in a “state of journeying” does. (Catechism, 302)

We think of 21% oxygen as “normal.” But again, that’s been changing. Atmospheric oxygen was almost non-existent Before the GOE, and has fluctuated since. A lot.

After photosynthesizing microcritters started dumping oxygen in Earth’s ocean, killing anaerobic life — I talked about that earlier — there still was precious little in the air. Most of the oxygen was getting absorbed by the ocean’s water and rock.

Then, from around 1,850,000,000 to 850,000,000 years back, it looks like the ocean and seabed got saturated enough for oxygen to start escaping into Earth’s atmosphere.

It still wasn’t accumulating there, since exposed rocks were getting oxidized as fast as oxygen reached them.2

If you haven’t noticed the hue and cry over carbon dioxide, you probably don’t read or listen to the news.3

“Hue and cry” apparently started with Edward I of England’s 1285 Statute of Winchester, making lots of folks responsible for theft or robbery. American law discourages folks from shielding burglars and robbers, and I’m drifting off-topic again.

Carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse gas” produced by volcanoes, fermenting bread, and leaky fire extinguishers. There’s more in Earth’s atmosphere now than there was before the industrial revolution. I’ll get back to that.

3. Smaller Can Be Better

(From NASA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The IceCube smallsat was designed to study Earth, but upcoming missions would be despatched to other planetary bodies”
(BBC News))

Nasa ‘smallsats’ open up new planetary frontier
Paul Rincon, BBC News (March 22, 2017)

Nasa is planning a series of small satellite missions that could open up new ways of exploring the Solar System.

“James Green, head of planetary science at Nasa, told BBC News that the agency was investing in the technology and looking at how best it could be used.

“Scientists studying these “smallsats” believe they have now proven their utility for cutting edge science.

“They could be deployed from larger spacecraft to carry out targeted investigations, Dr Green explained….”

Satellites and probes have been, mostly, getting bigger. Sputnik 1 was about the size of a beach ball; 58 centimeters, 23 inches across — not counting antennae.

The Hubble Space Telescope is 13.2 by 4.2 meters, 43.3 by 13.8 feet; and the International Space Station is 72.8 meters, 239 feet, long.

I’m pretty sure we’ll keep building large spaceships: when that’s the most reasonable design for a mission. But we’ve been getting better at making equipment smaller.

I’m most impressed by what’s happened in electronics. I remember when vacuum tubes were pretty much the high end of electronics tech. We’ve recently made circuitry small, and low-powered, enough to fit inside people. Also monkeys. (November 18, 2016 )

Carbon Dioxide isn’t Carbon Monoxide

I’m not surprised that there’s more carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere than the ‘good old days’ of no steam locomotives and cholera epidemics.

We’ve been learning that there’s been less carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, and a whole lot more than today. The same goes for oxygen.

I’m also not surprised that the crisis du jure is now called “climate change.” My guess is that too many folks started remembering the coming ice age, and began actually looking at available data. (January 20, 2017)

I don’t deny that Earth’s climate is changing. I’d be astonishing if it stopped changing, and that we should “do something” about conditions here.

But I sincerely hope that decisions are made rationally, based on data: not feelings.(January 20, 2017; November 18, 2016 )

Earth’s carbon monoxide isn’t quite the same as carbon dioxide. It comes mostly from sunlight hitting the atmosphere.

It also comes from volcanoes, forest fires, and faulty stoves. The stuff binds with hemoglobin, but the way it kills critters like us is a lot more complicated. It’s toxic in more than trace amounts, though, which is why it’s a good idea to fix stoves.

Aristotle didn’t know about the biochemistry of carbon monoxide poisoning, but did notice that toxic fumes come from burning coals.

Killing folks convicted of crimes by putting them in a bathing room with smoldering coals is another reason I don’t miss the ‘good old days.’ (January 22, 2017; January 11, 2017; November 21, 2016)

Supereons, Eons, and Eras

As scientists started realizing that Earth a whole lot more than a few thousand years old, they coined words to make talking about different amounts of ‘a really long time’ easier.

This sort of thing fascinates me, your experience may vary.

Eons are units on the geologic time scale between supereons and eras. The Phanerozoic eon is the current one, when critters like trilobites and reef-building archaeocyathans appeared. That’s about 541,000,000 years ago, give or take 1,000,000.

The next one back is the Proterozoic, and don’t bother memorizing these names. There won’t be a test on this stuff.

Quite a bit happened before the Phanerozoic and Proterozoic. That’s January through September, more or less, on the ‘cosmic calendar’ up there.


There’s a kernel of truth behind all the chaff of “climate change” hype.

It’s nearly certain that we’ve been altering climate, at least regionally, ever since folks started planting crops.

Like it or not, we’re hot stuff:

4 What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.
(Psalms 8:46)

But “little less than a god” isn’t God.

Earth got along fine before we showed up.

Now that we’re here, we have “dominion;” which doesn’t mean we can do whatever we please. (March 26, 2017; January 20, 2017; November 18, 2016)

We can, actually, we have free will. But it would be a very bad idea. Our dominion is not ownership.

We’re more like stewards, responsible for God’s property. Using resources is okay. That’s part of our job: using and managing resources; for our reasoned use, and for future generations. (Genesis 1:2629, 2:15; Catechism, 339, 952, 24022405, 2415, 2456)

Our croplands and factories aren’t the only forces at work. I’ve talked about stewardship, eruptions of Mount Tambora, Krakatoa, and Mount Redoubt, before. (January 20, 2017)

Climate Change and Thinking Ahead

Earth’s climate was changing long before humanity arrived. It’s changed a lot over the last few billion years.

I think we have serious decisions to make over the next few centuries. I also think that we have centuries, millennia, and longer; and should be planning with that in mind.

I also think that we will prove as durable as rats, cockroaches, and — eventually — scorpions. (September 30, 2016)

Still learning about Earth and the universe:

1 Baron Kelvin, science, and sense:

2 Atmospheres:

3 I’ve talked about Ehrlich and fizzled forecasts before:

Posted in science news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment