New Worlds: The Search Continues

There’s a huge telescope under construction in Chile: the E-ELT. When compete, astronomers using it plan on looking for new worlds, and observing the early universe.

We may have spotted a second super-Saturn. We’ll know more about that in September.


Galileo, Copernicus, and Proof

Telescopes have come a long way since Galileo repurposed the “Dutch perspective glass” for astronomical observation.

About Galileo, Copernicus, the sun, and the Church: it’s true.

Copernicus delayed printing of his “De revolutionibus….” Galileo was tried and condemned by the (Roman) Inquisition. “De revolutionibus…” was on the “Index Librorum Prohibitorum.”

The ‘heroic scientist ultimately triumphs against forces of superstition’ story is dramatic, and familiar. Reality is a tad more complicated.

I talked about Copernicus last month. (April 28, 2017)

Briefly recapping the Copernicus timetable, “De revolutionibus…” was published in 1543, placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1616, and taken off the Index in 1620.

The problem had been nine sentences that incorrectly reflected a view that heliocentrism was an established fact: not a hypothesis.

The process would probably take less time today. With 17th century information technology, I think 1616 to 1620 is pretty fast work.

“De revolutionibus…” was, and is, an extremely technical publication: suitable for top-rate mathematicians and astronomers, not folks with my abilities.

Scientists — they were called natural philosophers at the time1 — who could follow the math realized that Copernican equations were valid.

They also realized that there was no proof that the equations described a physical reality. One major objection was a lack of observable stellar parallax.

Aristarchus: a Good First Try

If Copernicus was right, they pointed out, stars would shift their apparent position slightly when viewed from opposite sides of Earth’s orbit. We call the change in position stellar parallax.

Folks reading “De revolutionibus…” weren’t stupid, at all, and knew about Euclid’s geometry. With their 17th-century tech, they could detect no parallax.

They also knew that if the stars were far enough away, they couldn’t detect stellar parallax. Again, not with their tech.

But that would mean that the stars are very distant, indeed. I suspect that some academics discounted the Copernican model because the cosmos it described was much larger than they imagined.

Aristarchus of Samos had worked out distance between Earth and sun about 23 centuries back. He thought maybe Earth goes around our sun, and that the stars might be other suns.

He was right, on both counts, but we couldn’t demonstrate it until recently.

Aristarchus figured that our sun was about 6.7 Earth radii away. The actual number is roughly 150,000,000 kilometers, 93,000,000 miles:  about 14,600 Earth radii. But I think it was a good first try.

The nearest star we’ve found is a bit upwards of 268,200 times as far away as our sun. Let’s see: 14,600 times 268,200? That’s a whole lot of Earth radii.

Telescopes: Big, Bigger, and the E-ELT


(From Cmglee, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Comparison: telescope lenses and mirrors; past, present & planned; 1893-2022.)

The first known optical telescope was made by someone in the Netherlands around 1609.

Middelburg spectacle-makers Hans Lippershey and Sacharias Jansen developed one. So did Jacob Metius. Folks also called him Jacob Metius of Alkmaar. His alternative personal names were Jacobus or James.

European family naming customs were shifting at the time, and most likely still are: but more slowly. (April 2, 2017)

Lippershey applied for, but wasn’t granted, a patent “for seeing things far away as if they were nearby.” He was, however, given a substantial financial reward for developing a practical telescope.

Dutch officials may or may not have realized the tech would revolutionize astronomy. They certainly were aware of the telescope’s value to merchants.

The Netherlands was the Dutch Republic then, a top world trade power. Amsterdam was the New York City of the day.

Spotting and identifying an incoming cargo ship’s house flag before it arrived gave its owners, or their competitors, an advantage. That knowledge let them make deals before everyone on the wharf knew what’s coming to market.

Still Learning

“…we are dwarfs astride the shoulders of giants. We master their wisdom and move beyond it….”
(Isaiah di Trani, quoted in “Standing on the shoulders of giants
World Heritage Encyclopedia, via http://worldlibrary.eu)

The first telescopes used principles of refraction Ptolemy had studied in the 2nd century. We don’t know who made and used the first rock crystal lens.

Better technology gave astronomers more powerful telescopes, like Johannes Hevelius’ 46-meter/150-foot Keplerian telescope.

Ibn al-Haytham’s work laid groundwork for developing better lenses, and using mirrors in telescopes. Several Europeans, including Galileo, started discussing practical reflecting telescopes after Galileo’s work with the Dutch spyglass.

James Gregory published a design for the Gregorian telescope in 1663. Someone, the name depends on which account you read, successfully measured the distance to 61 Cygni. That was between 1812 and 1814.

Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel arguably got there first, but all of them were building on a couple millennia of work and thought. More, actually.

Hand-held rock crystal lenses are portable, and handy for starting fires, provided there’s direct sunlight. My guess is that we’ve been using them since long before we looked the way we do now, and that’s another topic.


1. Coming Soon: the E-ELT, a Huge Telescope


(From ESO, used w/o permission.)
(“Artist’s rendering of the ELT in operation”
(ESO))

First Stone Ceremony for ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope
Press release, ESO (May 26, 2017)

“A ceremony marking the first stone of ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) has been attended today by the President of the Republic of Chile, Michelle Bachelet Jeria. The event was held at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in northern Chile, close to the site of the future giant telescope. This milestone marked the beginning of the construction of the dome and main telescope structure of the world’s biggest optical telescope, and ushered in a new era in astronomy. The occasion also marked the connection of the observatory to the Chilean national electrical grid….”

We’ve learned a great deal since folks built Zorats Karer.

Someone, we don’t know who, built those ruins: after Lothal was a major trade center and before Phoenicians developed their alphabet. They used Egyptian hieroglyphs as a starting point. The Phoenicians, that is.

My language uses an alphabet based, indirectly, on their work, I mentioned that last week, and that’s yet another topic. (May 26, 2017)

We’re not even sure why folks built Zorats Karer. Some of the stones and holes line up with astronomical events like solstices and equinoxes. But we could be looking at what’s left of a city wall, or something else. We’re not sure about Stonehenge, either.

The first observatory in the current sense, a facility designed specifically for observing and studying objects in the sky, was probably built by folks funded by Al-Ma’mun, Harun al-Rashid’s son.

Observatories, those built for visual observation, need clear skies. Radio observatories are another matter. City lights weren’t much of a factor back in Al-Ma’mun’s day, or when Tycho Brahe had Uraniborg built.

Uraniborg included an observatory, plus an alchemical laboratory and research support facilities. There were even an aquaculture ponds. Overflow from the ponds powered a paper mill.

This was the late 1500s, when alchemy was still a serious discipline. (October 16, 2016)

Gaslamps and the Atacama Desert

Gas-powered street lighting started replacing link-boys around 1800.

Folks felt safer with illuminated streets, except after gas explosions, which may help explain why we switched to electric lighting.

There’s informed debate on how much — or whether — street lighting interferes with our wake-sleep cycle. What’s more certain is that astronomers can’t count on dark sky in or near cities nowadays.

That, and a need for very clear skies, has encouraged astronomers to build observatories on mountaintops; far from cities.

The European Extremely Large Telescope is, or will be, on Cerro Armazones, a mountain in Chile’s Atacama Desert, Earth’s driest non-polar desert. It will be the European Southern Observatory’s fifth observing site.

Why So Big?


(From ESO, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The European Extremely Large Telescope, E-ELT; what’s under the dome.)

If it works as planned, the E-ELT will gather 100,000,000 times as much light as the human eye.

That’s 13 times more than the largest optical telescopes we had in 2014, about 256 times as much as the Hubble Space Telescope. Its images should be 16 times sharper than Hubble’s. Again, if the E-ELT works as planned.

Even if there is a glitch in manufacture or construction, fixing the problem should be easier than designing and installing Hubble’s corrective mirror.

Bigger isn’t always better, but collecting more light helps when you’re making telescopes.

The E-ELT’s main mirror is segmented, since there’s a limit to how big we can make precisely-ground mirrors. The twin 8.4 meter, 27 foot, Large Binocular Telescope’s mirrors are pretty close to that limit with today’s technology.

A big mirror is useless if it’s not the right shape. Eight-meter monolithic mirrors need active optics to keep variables like wind, mechanical stress, and temperature from warping them. The same goes for segmented telescope mirrors.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star: Dealing With Scintillation

“Twinkling” starlight is the attractive, seemingly-random variations in starlight that has inspired poetry — and technology to handle the changes.

Astronomers can be as poetic as anyone else, but twinkling interferes with detailed observation.

That’s particularly true when an astronomer uses photography, or any other tech. Until a few decades back, the only solution was to wait for a very still night, and hope for the best. That’s still important, but new technology has made things easier.

Telescopes, particularly large ones, now have adaptive optics.

It’s sort of like active optics, but handles momentary distortions. Adaptive optical systems sense distortions in a wavefront, the “twinkling,” tweaking the telescope’s optics to keep the star’s image steady.

The system can use a bright star near the telescope’s target, or generate its own guide stars by shining lasers in the right direction. That’s what those bright lines in the ESO artist’s rendering illustrate. The E-ELT uses six artificial guide stars.2

Seeking Undiscovered Worlds


(From B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Protoplanetary disk around Elias 2-27, infrared image taken at the ESO’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array.)

My guess is that when news of the E-ELT’s construction starts cycling through the news, articles will focus on astronomers using it to search for extrasolar planets.

Finding new worlds is an important part of its mission. We’ll also be learning more about worlds we’ve already found.

Astronomers will be looking for water and organic molecules in protoplanetary discs, and studying the atmospheres of some exoplanets.

If an Earth-like planet orbits one of the nearer, brighter, stars; we could get images of it with the E-ELT.

We’ll also be learning more about worlds we’ve already found.

Astronomers will also be searching for previously-undiscovered exoplanets, and studying the atmospheres of some.

The E-ELT’s instruments use visible and infrared light, so scientists can study protoplanetary disks, giving us a better idea of how planetary systems form and develop.

Other research will study extremely distant galaxies, whose light has been heading our way since this universe was young. We’re hoping that the E-ELT will let astronomers directly observe this universe’s expansion.

Over the next several decades we may learn a very great deal about how this universe formed, and whether our current models the workings of matter and energy match reality. If they don’t, we’ll be learning even more.


2. Maybe It’s a Super-Saturn – – –


(From NASA, JPL-Caltech, Space Science Institute; via Scientific American, used w/o permission.)
(“Seen here backlit by the sun in this image from NASA’s Cassini orbiter, Saturn is our solar system’s most majestic ringed planet….'”
(Scientific American))

Newly Found Exoplanet May Have Ring System Dwarfing Saturn’s
Nola Taylor Redd, Scientific American (May 25, 2017)

“Although planetary rings are extremely common in our solar system—every gas giant circling our sun has one—they’ve proved harder to spot around worlds orbiting other stars. That’s a shame, because studies of ring systems around younger worlds could help clarify what the giant planets of our nearly five-billion-year-old solar system looked like in their first few million years.

“More than two decades of planet hunting have revealed just one ringed exoplanet—a super-size version of Saturn that researchers have only just begun to study using very large telescopes. But now they may have have found a second super-Saturn half-hidden in a disk of gas and dust surrounding a young star, a world readily observable even with backyard telescopes….”

This planet, or whatever it is, orbits PDS 110; about 1,100 light-years away in Orion. That would put in the general vicinity of, but not in, the Orion Nebula.

Scientists working with the Wide-Angle Search for Planets (WASP) say they may have found a huge version of Saturn and its rings.

What astronomers observed was a 25-day 30% dip in PDS 110’s brightness in November 2008 and January 2011.

A reasonable explanation is that something big passed between us and the star twice, and that it orbits the star every 808 days, give or take two days. That would put it about 2 AU out from the star, twice the distance between Earth and our sun.

It’s probably a planet, or maybe a brown dwarf, with a mass between 1.8 and 70 times Jupiter’s — surrounded by an enormous ring system, 50,000,000 kilometers across. That’s around 200 times as wide as Saturn’s rings.

One of the less-unlikely explanations for variations in light from “Tabby’s Star,” KIC 8462852, is a sort of super-Saturn with irregular rings. On the other hand, maybe — just maybe — someone’s building a very large ‘something’ out there. (December 2, 2016)

– – – or Something Else

Or maybe the PSD object is a less well-organize orbiting cloud of debris orbiting PSD 110.

Another possibility is that it’s clumps of debris in PSD 110’s circumstellar disk. That’s not as likely, since the dips were virtually identical.

At this point, all we’re sure about is that PSD 110’s light dimmed by the same amount, for the same duration, two times running. That might be a statistical fluke.

If it happens three times in a row, the ‘dumb luck’ scenario will be even less likely. We’ll know in September 2017.

Amateur astronomers could get in on the action with this one. Anyone with a modestly dark sky in Earth’s northern hemisphere, and decent backyard telescope, should be able to observe it. PSD 110 is an 11th magnitude star, at 05h 23m 31.008s by -01° 04′ 23.68″.

PSD 110 is a young star, most likely between 7 and 15 million years old. Planets should be forming around PSD 110 about now.

That’s assuming that the nebular hypothesis is fairly accurate. We’re pretty sure that moons of the large outer planets of the Solar System formed from rings like the ones which may have been observed.3

The nebular hypothesis has held up pretty well, with considerable tweaking, over the last few decades. My guess is that it’s not far from accurate: particularly since we seem to be observing planetary systems in the process of forming.

But I don’t know for sure, neither do scientists, and that’s why it’s called the nebular hypothesis. We’re still learning. And that gets me back to Galileo.

Galileo’s legendary confrontation with the forces of superstition and ignorance is real: in the sense that what he said, and how he said it, led to his trial and conviction. But like I said earlier, reality is a tad more complicated.

Putting Galileo in Perspective

I’ve talked about the Thirty Years’ War and Defenestration of Prague before.

The European conflict had a religious angle, but I’m quite sure politics and economics were in the mix, too. (March 17, 2017; November 6, 2016)

The Thirty Years’ war left us with about 7,500,000 dead bodies.

After decades of warfare, famine, and witch hunts, some Europeans started re-thinking old assumptions about authority and business-as-usual.

That, I think, was a good idea. Assuming that religion leads to warfare, famine, and death: not so much.

It doesn’t help that some folks have disturbed views of what God wants. (May 24, 2017; February 1, 2017; January 22, 2017)

The notion that ‘religion kills people’ is still with us. I think it makes about as much sense as assuming that thinking and democracy cause guillotines, mass beheadings, and state-sponsored toga parties. Or blaming Satan. (November 13, 2016; November 6, 2016)

About the Reformation and Thirty Years’ War — there really were problems in clerical practice. My culture’s roots are in the northern end of the mess, so we call the Church’s actions to fix those problems the Counter-Reformation.

The 1545-1563 Council of Trent was, and is, an important part of that process. I figure we’d have ‘countered’ anyway. I’ve mentioned the 910 Cluniac Reforms and 1962-65 Second Vatican Council before. (March 17, 2017)

Self-Confidence and Assumptions

The Thirty Years’ War was about eight years in the future when Galileo published “Sidereus Nuncius” in 1610. And no, I do not think Galileo started the war.

But decades of serenity-shattering peasant revolts in the north and reforms from the Council of Trent had already happened by the time he wrote it.

I strongly suspect current events and recent memory encouraged some folks to be skittish, at best, about new ideas.

Any new ideas.

I also suspect that Galileo could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d had a less abrasive personality, and had the good sense to say his heliocentric view was an opinion.

Instead, he insisted that what his “Sidereus Nuncius” expressed incontrovertible facts. There are times and circumstances which warrant that level of self-confidence. This wasn’t one of them.

Like I said earlier, it was decades — centuries — before we had proof that Copernicus and Galileo were on the right track.

Galileo might have had trouble, anyway. He seems to have had a talent for alienating his allies, and infuriating his enemies.

And, as I said, folks who didn’t like new ideas had some reason to be nervous in 1610. Being nervous isn’t, I think, an excuse for acting badly; neither is saying “I meant well.” But I try to understand motives. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1750, 1789)

Galileo’s trial and conviction could have had worse results. He was sentenced to house arrest, and a legend was born.4

Oddly enough, Galileo’s trouble with sunspots isn’t part of the ‘science against the forces of superstition’ story. Not often, anyway.

Galileo observed sunspots, publishing his work in 1613. Depending on who you read, Francesco Sizzi spotted them first, or Christoph Scheiner. Galileo said he was first, which led to another interpersonal spat.

That’s the European sunspot connection. Over in China, some folks say Shi Shen was first, about 23 centuries back. Or maybe it was Gan De. Or someone else.


3. TRAPPIST-1h: It’s Real


(From ESO/M. Kornmesser/spaceengine.org, via Sci-News, used w/o permission.)
(An artist’s impression of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system.)

Seventh TRAPPIST-1 Planet Confirmed
Camille M. Carlisle, Sky and Telescope (May 22, 2017)

“The modest M8 red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 became famous after astronomers discovered seven small exoplanets in orbit around it. At the time the discoverers made the announcement in February, they couldn’t say much about the outermost world, labeled h: The astronomers had seen the planet — or, at least something they thought was a planet — pass in front of the star only once.

“Rodrigo Luger (University of Washington, Seattle) and colleagues, including members of the original discovery team, have now confirmed planet h’s existence and some of its specs….”

The TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may have more planets, but b through h give us an intriguing look at what may be a pattern for other systems orbiting low-mass stars.

Now that we’ve filled in some of the blanks in our knowledge about h, the outermost of the seven worlds, I suspect we’ve got even more questions than before.

I’m guessing that scientists will start working on explanations for why their orbits are so similar to the Jovian system’s. (March 3, 2017)

Or we may learn that entirely different mechanisms produced similar results.

TRAPPIST-1h is about 75% as wide as Earth, 40% larger than Mars. It’s closer to TRAPPIST-1 than any of the Solar System’s planets, but that star is much dimmer than ours. The planet gets about as much warmth from its sun as objects in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt.

We’re pretty sure that means life-as-we-know-it can’t exist there. On the other hand, that’s what we thought about the outer planet moons, and now NASA is planning a ‘search for life’ mission to Europa.

Or we may learn that our protein-in-water biochemistry isn’t unique. Maybe some of the hypothetical biochemistries being discussed aren’t entirely hypothetical. (March 3, 2017)

Then there’s the TRAPPIST-1 system’s dancing planets.

A Complex Dance


(“A Resonant Dance of the Seven TRAPPIST-1 Planets,” NASA’s Ames Research Center (no audio) (May 22, 2017) via YouTube)

Some, at least, of the Jovian moons are in Laplace resonance orbits. Europa, for example, goes around Jupiter twice for each orbit of Ganymede’s.

TRAPPIST-1 planets are in a more complicated dance. Every two laps of planet h is matched with three of planet g – – – but not quite. The number is exact, but it’s not an integer.

Math geeks, I’m not one, may enjoy working through the relationship: x/P1 – (x+y)/P2 + y/P3 = 0 — where x and y are integers and P1, P2, and P3 are the orbital periods of planet 1, planet 2, and planet 3 in whichever trio you’re looking at. Enjoy.

I wouldn’t know about that equation, but Camille M. Carlisle included it in her article.

We’re a bit less certain about TRAPPIST-1’s age. We know the star’s mass, about 8% the sun’s. The Kepler2 mission’s data gives us its rotation rate, too. TRAPPIST-1’s sunspots go past every 3.3 days. Probably.

That number has changed before, and may again when we have more precise data.

Mass and rotation rate match what we’ve found in most average ultracool dwarf stars. The nearby ones, at any rate.

TRAPPIST-1 had one notable flare while being observed. That lets scientists make an educated guess about the star’s level of activity. All that adds up to a likely age of between 3,000,000,000 and 8,000,000,000 years.

Carlisle is a scientist by training, which explains how she closed her article:

“…That permits all sorts of speculation about habitability and alien life, but given how much remains unknown about this system, I prefer not to dabble in such musings.”
(Camille M. Carlisle, Sky and Telescope)

Not Quite Earth 2.0


(From NASA/JPL-Caltech, used w/o permission.)
(TRAPPIST-1 and Solar planetary systems, habitable zones in green. TRAPPIST-1 system enlarged for clarity.)

The Solar System is about 4,500,000,000 years old. That’s right in the middle of a reasonable estimate for TRAPPIST-1’s age. Its seven known planets are most likely rocky, like the Solar System’s inner worlds.

TRAPPIST-1f is almost exactly the same diameter as Earth, and g is roughly one and an eighth times our planet’s size. TRAPPIST-1f is smack in the middle of the star’s habitable zone, g is in the next track out.

I don’t have a professional reputation to maintain, and I’m not as a scientist, so I can dabble with minimal risk.

Let’s say that TRAPPIST-1 is only 1/4,540th older than the Solar System.

I’m in my mid-60s, so someone one and one 4,540th times older than I am would have been born a few days before I was. For most purposes, that’s practically the same age.

For the Solar System, that’s a million years. Still nearly the same age, on a cosmic scale.

On a human scale, the story’s a bit different. (December 16, 2016)

Speculation

Let’s say that life started on TRAPPIST-1f at exactly the same interval after the star’s formation as life on Earth.

About three and a third million years back, people there developed their equivalent of Oldowan stone tools.

A million years ago, they learned that other stars had planetary systems like theirs, only not quite. They began sending radio messages, getting no replies, toward several promising planetary systems.

A few thousand years later, they developed fast(ish) interstellar travel. Let’s say they’re a bit more risk-averse, on average, than humans. I suspect that wouldn’t take much.

Even after they developed fast interstellar travel, they never visited the Solar System in person.

This star’s high-energy radiation was, they had learned, far beyond what any known or hypothetical form of life could endure. As far as they had learned at that point.

We use some of that radiation, specifically UVB, to synthesize vitamin D. That may, or may not, be why folks whose ancestors lived where mine did look the way we do. We’ve been away from home a long time, and that’s yet again another topic.

These not-human folks did, however, eventually begin sending robotic probes to the Solar System. That’s what we’ve been doing here in the Solar System. I think it’ll likely be our strategy as we begin exploring this part of the galaxy.

Eventually the probes detected life on the third planet. Their scientists confirmed that it wasn’t a sensor glitch, and re-thought their ideas about biochemistry.

The probes also reported statistically-improbable heat concentrations consistent with small fires were often close to one particular sort of critter. That had an obvious, if somewhat unbelievable, explanation. The critters were people. Using fire.

That was about a million years back. Here’s a list of milestones I used when concocting that tale:

The numbers are years-before-now. Back to my imaginary tale.

Taking the ‘we’re all gonna die’ attitude, I could say that they destroyed themselves by waging war and eating too much fatty food — right after they discovered us.

Instead, I’ll assume that they didn’t. If that was all true, why aren’t they here now?

More Speculation

Maybe they’re not as incurably chatty as we are. Maybe they are here, in the form of AI orbiting far out of the ecliptic.

Maybe they want to see what we’ll do next. Maybe they’re trying to figure out why we didn’t become extinct during one of this planet’s temperature/climate changes. (May 26, 2017; January 20, 2017)

Or maybe they’ve spent the last half-million years meditating on the whichness of what and unscrewing the inscrutable, and lost interest in us.

If we do have neighbors who aren’t human, I very strongly suspect we’ll learn that — they’re not human. (December 23, 2016; December 16, 2016)

If you’re a regular reader, you know why I don’t see a conflict between seeking God and seeking truth. I’m not even disturbed by the idea that God’s creation is bigger, older, and filled with more wonders, than some of us thought, a few centuries back.

If you’re new here, no worries. I’ll get back to faith, science, and SETI: after looking at what a scientist-monk said recently.


4. “An Act of Prayer”


(From Zenit – HSM, via Zenit, used w/o permission.)

Interview: ‘If There Is Faith, to Study the Universe With Science Is An Act of Prayer,’ Says Guy Consolmagno
Sergio Mora, Zenit (May 9, 2017)

“‘At the beginning of time, God spoke to us through Creation, says the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. Therefore, to study the universe with science, is an act of prayer, a way of encountering God.’ However, to do so, ‘it is necessary to encounter God first as Father, as Abba, otherwise God cannot be encountered with science.” In other words, “faith must be there first, if one wishes to see God in Creation.’

“Talking with ZENIT, astronomer Guy Consolmagno explained this on the sidelines of the meeting held yesterday, May 8, 2017, in the Holy See Press Office, where the Scientific Workshop on black holes, gravitational waves and the peculiarity of space-time, which will be held in the Vatican Astronomical Observatory in Castel Gandolfo from May 9-12, was presented….”

I’m not sure which “peculiarity of space-time” they’ll be discussing. I hope there’ll be coverage of the workshop.

Guy Consolmagno wasn’t, in a way, saying anything new here; although I like the “act of prayer” quote.

As I keep saying, God gave us brains: pretty good ones. Using them is what we’re supposed to do.

Being curious, thinking, learning how this universe works and using that knowledge, is part of being human. Studying the beauty and wonders around us is one way we learn about God. (Catechism, 3132, 3536, 301, 303306, 311, 319, 1704, 22932296)

Or we can decide to ignore the whole thing. As Brother Consolmagno said, science doesn’t force us to believe. But it works with faith, if we let it.

Me? I like learning more about this vast and ancient cosmos. I see scientific discoveries as opportunities for “greater admiration” of God’s work. (Catechism, 283, 341)

About extraterrestrial intelligence? Folks like us, free-willed creatures with physical bodies? I hope we have neighbors. But I will leave that level of design decisions about the universe to God.

God’s God, I’m not. I figure part of my job is appreciating God’s work: not telling the Almighty how to run this universe.


Touch-Tone Telephones and Tradition

I’m a Christian, and a Catholic. Some Catholics apparently think our faith means desperately trying to live as if it’s still 1950, or earlier.

I don’t see it that way, obviously.

I’ve been asked how I can make my faith relevant to life in the 21st century. That was a reasonable question, given the way some of us act. The short answer is that I value Tradition, but don’t try following all traditions.

I take our Tradition, capital “T,” very seriously. I follow some traditions we’ve developed over the ages, but not all. I’d be surprised if one person could, there are so many.

I don’t try living as if the ’60s never happened, or think that touch-tone telephones and Batman doomed civilization. That’s not what Tradition is.

Our Tradition is the living message of the Gospel, maintained and passed along through the millennia.5 (Catechism, 7583)

Our Tradition is important. It mattered in the 1st century, it still does in the 21st. Unless the Last Judgment comes a lot sooner that I think it will,6 it will matter in the 41st, and 61st, and for the rest of time.

Some are our traditions are important, too. They’re useful habits we’ve developed and adapted to different places and times. Lower-case-“t” traditions are kept, changed, or dropped, as our needs change. This is okay. (Catechism, 83)

Desperately clinging to customs that don’t make sense any more seems like a waste of effort, at best.

Doing what is right, no matter what’s currently popular: that, I think, is worthwhile. (February 5, 2017; August 14, 2016; July 24, 2016)

Seeking strange new worlds, recent developments:


1 My take on natural philosophers, plus some history and science:

2 An excessive number of links to information you most likely don’t need:

3 More about planetary systems and the nebular hypothesis:

4 Galileo, the Reformation, and sunspots:

5 Definitions:

  • BIBLE: Sacred Scripture: the books which contain the truth of God’s Revelation and were composed by human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit (105). The Bible contains both the forty-six books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament (120). See Old Testament; New Testament.”
  • MAGISTERIUM: The living, teaching office of the Church, whose task it is to give as authentic interpretation of the word of God, whether in its written form (Sacred Scripture), or in the form of Tradition. The Magisterium ensures the Church’s fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles in matters of faith and morals (85, 890, 2033).”
  • TRADITION: The living transmission of the message of the Gospel in the Church. The oral preaching of the Apostles, and the written message of salvation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Bible), are conserved and handed on as the deposit of faith through the apostolic succession in the Church. Both the living Tradition and the written Scriptures have their common source in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (7582). The theological, liturgical, disciplinary, and devotional traditions of the local churches both contain and can be distinguished from this apostolic Tradition (83).”

And see Catechism, 95, 113, 126, and 174.

6 I take the Last Judgment seriously. What wannabe prophets say are End Times Bible Prophecies, not so much:

About Brian H. Gill

I’m a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I’m only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.

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5 Responses to New Worlds: The Search Continues

  1. Peggy Haslar says:

    Thanks for presenting these facts. Loved the link to Guy Consolmagno’s research.

  2. irishbrigid says:

    Wouldn’t that be the other way around: “The problem had been nine sentences that incorrectly reflected a view that heliocentrism was a hypothesis: not established fact.”

    Stutter: “were aware of the telescope’s value of telescopes to merchants.”

    Still not convinced this last comma is necessary: “stress, and temperature, from warping them.”

    Missing article: “If there is Earth-like planet orbiting”

    Didn’t you just say that? “Astronomers will also be searching for previously-undiscovered exoplanets”

    Missing period: “And that gets me back to Galileo”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

    • Oops. Right you are. Fixed. You’re probably right about ‘Oxford commas.’ I’ll want to re-think my enthusiasm for them. I’ve taken care of the rest, too: including a rewrite of the ‘previously-undiscovered’ paragraphs. Thanks!

      • irishbrigid says:

        That’s not an Oxford comma. The Oxford comma is the one before the ‘and.’ Not sure what the one at the end of the list is called, if anything.

Thanks for taking time to comment!