Tag Archives: science

7 September, Going Viral CVIII: The universe disturbed.

Brother Guy Consolmagno was meant to be addressing an astronomy conference recently, but a mild case of covid meant that he had to do so remotely, though he’d already arrived in Scotland, ready, or so he thought, to speak about meteorites. He reflects on his experience: (follow the link for the full text).

I’ve lost track of how many Covid “waves” this has been, but unlike the last waves there has been no uptick in deaths this time. Still, it’s no fun having your travel plans disturbed by disease, even after you’ve taken all the recommended precautions.

Some forty-plus years ago, the brilliant engineer Freeman Dyson wrote a book called Disturbing the Universe and the title alone would make it memorable. (The rest of the book’s pretty good, too.) Each of us has had to endure having our universes disturbed, by causes big or small. And each of us in turn disturbs the universe as well. We can’t help but poke and prod… sometimes with spacecraft, sometimes with prayer. It’s a universe that was created to be disturbed.

Thanks for your continued prayers and support, and know that you also have mine!
Br. Guy Consolmagno

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Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, Laudato si'

17 August: The work of your fingers.

an undulating, translucent star-forming region in the Carina Nebula is shown in this Webb image, hued in ambers and blues; foreground stars with diffraction spikes can be seen, as can a speckling of background points of light through the cloudy nebula

We were going to write about NASA’s James Webb telescope but Canon Anthony Charlton beat us to it. He is PP of St Thomas, Canterbury.

Amidst all the news about the continued atrocities in Ukraine and the search for a new prime minister, the first full-colour picture from the new James Webb Space Telescope has been released. The $10bn James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), was launched last Christmas and is billed as the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope.

It will make all sorts of observations of the sky but has two overarching goals. One is to take pictures of the very first stars to shine in the Universe more than 13.5 billion years ago; the other is to probe far-off planets to see if they might be habitable.

The BBC website reported “The image is said to be the deepest, most detailed infrared view of the Universe to date, containing the light from galaxies that has taken many billions of years to reach us. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. And that light that you are seeing on one of those little specks has been travelling for over 13 billion years,” said Nasa administrator Bill Nelson.” And by the way, we’re going back further, because this is just the first image. They’re going back about 13 and a half billion years. And since we know the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, you’re going back almost to the beginning.”

What an exciting revelation. It is hard to take in but amazing that we have such a new glimpse of the universe. I immediately thought of the words of Psalm 8

“When I see the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, or the son of man that you care for him?  Yet you have made him little lower than the angels; with glory and honour you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hands. You put all things under his feet.”

Canon Father Anthony

Canon Father Anthony Charlton, Parish Priest, St Thomas’, Canterbury.

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16 August: Is This What Existentialism Means?

Knowing nothing of physics,
Atoms and such things
As planets - like this one
Are assembled, 
Constructed, 
Designed:
I know therefore, nothing of God,
Designer (a modern term),
Pre-creator
Knowing before creation,
Before, and even before
Existence 
Brought forth thought -
Designer - thought.
But reaching through the mists,
The immateriality of no-thing
Brought forth before thought the loneliness of love,
The culmination of the cross
The existentialism of the cross.

That word slipped in!

Existentialism could be called the philosophy of human existence, of the essence of humanity, which is freedom. While many of the big names were atheists, their ideas were not all hostile to belief in God or the Christian faith; indeed they were critically examined in my seminary course back in the 1960’s. Contrary to popular belief, our teachers who were Catholic Priests, wanted us to think things through, something the existentialists prided themselves on.

Now here is Sheila Billingsley philosophising on creation and suffering and love, the culmination of the cross.

Read it again!

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28 July: My vocation today XX: to accompany or correct?

walking together

It was as short a post as ever I posted:

Are we being called to accompany rather than correct?

This is from a post by Eric Clayton, who was irritated by a bossy safety feature on his car. And that question and its link were to be today”s post, until the very same day I read another Jesuit writer’s wisdom, which answers the question pretty well:

We’re all members of a band, each of us with our own instrument to play. And we play best when we each add our part and don’t try to tell everyone else in the band how to play their instruments.

That was Brother Guy Consolmagno, of the Vatican observatory on astronomy and Sir Paul McCartney.

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3 July: Leaf from leaf.

All Saints, Godshill, Isle of Wight.

This Lily Crucifix is striking. The figure of Christ is bleeding yet not broken; indeed he looks vigorous. The cross, too, is not dead wood but a lily of the field, full of sap and flowering. It’s not a canna – the one we usually call an Easter Lily – but an Easter Lily for all that. Christ, the wounded Christ, is risen! Immediately below the lily cross the church has placed the tabernacle or aumbry, housing the wafer that Christians recognise as the body of Christ.

Scattered across the wall are five-petalled pink flowers, surely wild roses like the one below. Or are they stars, their numbers counted by Him alone? Earth’s astronomers keep on counting more and more of them as their instruments look ever further, but they seem to have given up on names, instead allotting numbers to the innumerable golden grains they perceive and whose vastness they measure from light years away. They know they will never reach the end of the numbers but they trust that their work is valuable. It is valuable, for it is awe inspiring.

Here is Christina Rossetti, saying all this and more, with greater eloquence than your correspondent!

Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose

Leaf from leaf Christ knows;
Himself the Lily and the Rose:

Sheep from sheep Christ tells;
Himself the Shepherd, no one else:

Star and star He names,
Himself outblazing all their flames:

Dove by dove, He calls
To set each on the golden walls:

Drop by drop, He counts
The flood of ocean as it mounts:

Grain by grain, His hand
Numbers the innumerable sand.

Lord, I lift to Thee
In peace what is and what shall be:

Lord, in peace I trust
To Thee all spirits and all dust.

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Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Easter, Laudato si', PLaces, poetry

2 May: Laudato Si online library opens to public


If we are to succeed in combatting climate change it will be by taking action based on scientific reflection. Often the research papers are inaccessible in libraries that can pay for journal subscriptions. Something is being done about that. Read on.

The Laudato Si’ Research Institute at Campion Hall, Oxford (LSRI) and Knowledge Unlatched (KU) have joined forces to make 11 titles from the field of Integral Ecology Open Access (OA) – freely accessible.

In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of a united, global response to the current ecological crisis. Dialogue and learning on integral ecology, however, is often hindered by limited access to the academic publications on the subject, which are not affordable for many individuals and institutions in lower-income countries. The Laudato Si’ Integral Ecology Collection was developed to address this problem by making OA a selection of key texts on integral ecology. The collection will provide a valuable resource for lay readers, students, and those undertaking more advanced academic study. Publications in the collection could also be read as part of a reading group or an online course.

The titles will be made available OA to users all over the world after the official launch of the Collection on Thursday, 3 March, 2022. The books will be hosted in a special module on the Open Research Library.

“I am thrilled to be launching this pioneering OA library of books on integral ecology, which will reach people globally, whether one is a university student in the Philippines, a layperson engaged in environmental action in the UK, or a college teacher in Kenya,” said Séverine Deneulin, Director of International Development at LSRI, adding: “We hope that the Laudato Si’ Integral Ecology Collection will not only contribute to narrowing the knowledge gap between different regions of the world but also equip people globally to better respond to the cries of the earth and of the poor.”

“We are delighted to work with the LSRI team on making this collection of important content freely available thanks to the KU Reverse model,” said Philipp Hess, KU’s Manager of Publisher Relations. “We are also very grateful to the co-funding institutions that have helped to make this possible.”

LINKS

Read more about the collection here: https://lsri.campion.ox.ac.uk/events/launch-laudato-si-integral-ecology-collection

Laudato Si’ Research Institute – https://lsri.campion.ox.ac.uk/

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', Mission

22 April: A Promise

2009-05-04 20.01.43 (800x532)

Part of me wants Genesis 9:8-15, God’s Covenant with Noah, to be an Easter Vigil reading, when in fact it comes at the beginning of Lent in Year B. Nevertheless, it does speak of salvation, and water bringing Noah’s family to new life; it’s a little taste of Easter as Lent starts. The rainbow still tastes of Easter if we celebrate it in Easter week, with the curate of Selborne, Gilbert White. Our picture is of the rainbow seen over our friend Mrs O’s house on the day of her funeral. White was a pioneer of natural history, and here the scientist and theologian are one with the poet: ‘Lovely refraction!’ ‘Maker Omnipotent.’ Happy Easter!

ON THE RAINBOW by Gilbert White of Selborne.

” Look upon the Rainbow, and praise him that made it: very beautiful is it in the brightness thereof.” Ecclesiastes, 18:11.

On morning or on evening cloud impress'd, 
Bent in vast curve, the watery meteor shines 
Delightfully, to th' levell'd sun opposed: 
Lovely refraction ! while the vivid brede 
In listed colours glows, th' unconscious swain, 
With vacant eye, gazes on the divine 
Phenomenon, gleaming o'er the illumined fields, 
Or runs to catch the treasures which it sheds. 
Not so the sage: inspired with pious awe, 
He hails the federal arch ; and looking up, 
Adores that God, whose fingers form'd this bow 
Magnificent, compassing heaven about
With a resplendent verge, " Thou mad'st the cloud, 
Maker omnipotent, and thou the bow
And by that covenant graciously hast sworn 
Never to drown the world again: henceforth, 
Till time shall be no more, in ceaseless round, 
Season shall follow season: day to night,
Summer to winter, harvest to seed time,
Heat shall to cold in regular array
Succeed. — Heav'n taught, so sang the Hebrew bard." 

(from “The Natural History of Selborne” by Gilbert White)

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31 January: Do we really make new ‘discoveries’?

I turned the corner into our street; at almost 4.00 p.m. dusk was falling, so why was a woman crouched down outside the piano workshop looking through her phone towards the dental surgery? Surely not to capture their new paint job, which needs a few brush strokes where the scaffold had stood.

A jerky movement in front of the photographer revealed a pied wagtail, rather whiter about the head than this one, maybe three metres away from her. She will have gone home happy for having seen this trusting creature up close and personal, and at least having tried to take its picture.

And so did I rejoice in bird and birder! Well, I had discovered something of human nature as well as having a good look at the wagtail.

Father James Kurzynski in his blog for the Vatican Observatory, questions the use of three verbs in this short piece: capture, take, and discover. ‘Capture’ and ‘take’ both have hints of violence and taking possession of something. ‘Discover’ – did I dis-cover something or was I made aware of it? Was it rather revealed to me? My smile was real enough.

You will smile more than once reading Fr James’s article, I promise.

Pied wagtail by Charles J Sharp, Sharp Photography

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1 December: Over the stile with Emily

Stile near Silverdale, Lancashire, England.

Once more I find myself disagreeing with Emily: this time with her possibly tongue-in-cheek condemnation of science. However, her light-hearted, joyful acceptance of creation and of death are refreshing and appropriate for Advent. Refreshing too, her final image of the Father lifting her over the stile of pearl into Heaven. I can almost feel those hands, half circling my chest to lift me to himself, though now it is my privilege to lift grandsons to where they need to be. ‘You have to help me’, even when the child is ‘helping’ you.

No pearls on the stiles shown here, but good, solid, dependable limestone, that humans and dogs can get over, perhaps with a little help; that deer can leap with grace, but sheep are too woolly to manage. Not the best image for Heaven’s gate, perhaps, but there again, the stile is not the gate, not the official entrance where the sheep go in. This is a short cut, and it is not Peter or Michael but the Father himself that is watching here, ready to lift the naughty ones into his everlasting arms.

XX. OLD-FASHIONED.

 Arcturus is his other name, —
I'd rather call him star!
It's so unkind of science
To go and interfere!

 I pull a flower from the woods, —
A monster with a glass
Computes the stamens in a breath,
And has her in a class.

 Whereas I took the butterfly
Aforetime in my hat,
He sits erect in cabinets,
The clover-bells forgot.

 What once was heaven, is zenith now.
Where I proposed to go
When time's brief masquerade was done,
Is mapped, and charted too!

 What if the poles should frisk about
And stand upon their heads!
I hope I 'm ready for the worst,
Whatever prank betides!

 Perhaps the kingdom of Heaven 's changed!
I hope the children there
Won't be new-fashioned when I come,
And laugh at me, and stare!

 I hope the father in the skies
Will lift his little girl, —
Old-fashioned, naughty, everything, —
Over the stile of pearl!" 

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete” by Emily Dickinson)

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25 November: Falling through the night sky, Creation XXXVI.

Another reflection on the stars by a writer who loves the wild places where dark skies are more likely, the stars more visible. Robert Macfarlane is moved, almost physically, by gazing up - or is it down? into the night sky. 

The unconverted and limitless nature of the night sky ... is given a depth by the stars that far exceeds the depth given to the diurnal sky by clouds. On a cloudless night, looking upwards, you experience a sudden flipped vertigo, the feeling that your feet might latch off from the earth and you might plummet upwards into space... Our estrangement from the dark [due to street lighting] was a great and serious loss.
Robert Macfarlane, THE WILD PLACES, London, Granta, 2007.

A similar emotion struck David, who must have spent many a night under the stars:

For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.
What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?
Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour:
And hast set him over the works of thy hands.
                                                                                           Psalm 8:4-7

Before we get carried away in gratification, let Macfarlane remind us that the loss of the night sky to urban dwellers is serious and stunting.

About the photograph: Image of the night sky above Paranal, Chile on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the galaxy to which we belong. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. Three of the four 8.2-m telescopes forming ESO’s VLT are seen, with a laser beaming out from Yepun, Unit Telescope number 4. The laser points directly at the Galactic Centre. Also visible are three of the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes used for interferometry. They show small light beams which are diodes located on the domes. The exposure time is 5 minutes and because the tracking was made on the stars, the telescopes are slightly blurred.

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Filed under Autumn, Daily Reflections, Laudato si', PLaces