content top

The Origin of the Universe

The Origin of the Universe

The origin of the Universe is one of my favorite topics at the interface between science and faith. I’ve spoken on this several times (which I’ve kept track of on my Talks and Presentations page). The most recent occasion was the first time it was recorded. You can view it here. It took me a while to upload this because I wanted to find the right video-editing software to superimpose images I refer to. As this was the first time I’ve given this talk without an accompanying slideshow, I decided to provide handouts to the audience at least for my introduction, featuring the Hubble Deep Field. One of my goals for the next year is to record and produce a higher-quality video just for online viewing. For the time being, this is what I’m able to provide. The first half-hour is my talk; the second half-hour is Q&A.

Both science and faith have something to say about the origin of the Universe. 20th-century developments in physics enabled us to do scientific cosmology and investigate the properties of the Universe as a whole. Multiple pieces of evidence — such as the cosmological redshift, cosmic microwave background radiation, and abundances of primordial elements, to name a few — support the Big Bang cosmological model, which tells us that the Universe has been expanding for about 14 billion years. This, however, seems to clash with the creation account of Genesis. Do science and faith disagree here? Not necessarily. Genesis was not meant to be a physics textbook; certain passages do not have to be interpreted literally. Genesis tells us that God created the Universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) and that he created humans in his own image and likeness. These are philosophical and theological concepts. The Big Bang is a scientific model. Science, reason, and faith are all different ways of knowing truths that we need to learn how to integrate. Two truths cannot contradict each other. The same God that created the Cosmos can also enter it. He made the Universe intelligible because he wants us to know about it; yet he also wants us to know him. We don’t have to discredit our power of knowing Nature in order to discover God through Scripture. Neither do we have to throw away Scripture to accept all the new and exciting discoveries of Nature.   For a complete understanding of reality, we need both science and faith.

Read More

The Church’s Role in Science

The Church’s Role in Science

Last month I spoke at the Vandal Catholic Encounter on the topic of the Church’s role in science. Here is a link to the video recording. I apologize for how much you’ll have to strain to listen and see. In the future I hope to write an article to revisit the topic in more depth and perhaps do a different video recording.

In summary, the Church is not afraid of science. In fact, the Church embraces science and uses it. For example, in the lifetime of Galileo, though before the disagreements over cosmology surfaced, the Gregorian calendar reform took place. This calendar reform used humankind’s improved knowledge about the seasons, thanks to the science of astronomy. When Galileo first used a telescope and discovered Jupiter’s moons not orbiting the Earth, he began to promote heliocentrism openly. He was right about the Earth orbiting the Sun and about interpreting some passages of Scripture metaphorically. The Church and many people at the time held Galileo’s ideas suspect and asked for proof. Galileo was wrong that the tides prove the Earth’s motion; the tides are caused by the Moon and Sun. For promoting heliocentrism so vehemently after he had promised not to, he was sentenced to house arrest, where he lived the last decade of his life. Proof for the Earth’s motion came in the 19th century with Foucault’s pendulum. Pope St. John Paul II, on October 31, 1992, asked for forgiveness for how Galileo was treated (although by no means was he tortured or killed; rather, he was given first-class lodging during his trial in Rome). John Paul also said, “In fact the Bible does not concern itself with the details of the physical world, the understanding of which is the competence of human experience and reasoning.” (Read a translation of his speech here.) Not only does the Church recognize the role science has in advancing human knowledge about the universe we live in, but the Church also has a role in science. Institutions like the Vatican Observatory that participate in relevant science are an excellent example of this.

Read More

Presenting My Research Poster at the DPS Meeting

Presenting My Research Poster at the DPS Meeting

For the past week, I’ve been in Provo, Utah, for the 49th meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society. For the occasion, I put together a poster to give attendees a taste of a research project I’ve been working on: “Using Four-Body Problems to Explore Aegaeon’s Orbital Evolution”. I analyze a plausible explanation for how Saturn’s smallest moon, Aegaeon, got to where it is today. After I do some additional work and write the paper, I will provide a link to it and explain it in some detail for those who are interested.

 

Read More

Upcoming Events and Site Updates

Upcoming Events and Site Updates

Although this blog site had a slow and quiet start almost three years ago, my recent eclipse blog series has drawn a surge of attention, and it now has over 1,000 subscribers. Thanks to all who have subscribed and who read my blog! Not only do I want to keep this going; I want to make it better.

I will begin keeping subscribers informed about new posts and so forth through email–only as often as you wish. This has yet to be set up. Instead of posting blog-related updates on my personal Facebook page, I will now share them from the new Joseph Skywalker Facebook page. You can also follow me on Twitter.

For the next year I am aiming to post at least once a month. After that, as long as I pass my qualifying exam for my Physics Ph.D. program, I can commit to biweekly posts. I have so many drafts of future posts I just haven’t finished yet. I am working on getting a Patreon page set up to make it easier for those who wish to help me with the process. I hope to launch this in December. Stay tuned for more updates!

So far this month I’ve spoken twice about issues of science and faith. At the University of Idaho’s St. Augustine’s Center, I delivered my first-ever “Church’s Role in Science” talk, which featured the Gregorian calendar reform and the Galileo affair (I’m still working on getting the file of the recording so that I can upload it). Then, I gave my “Origin of the Universe” talk to the St. Mary’s high-schoolers as the first event of their Theology Buzz program. Next month I’ll be driving nine hours to speak at Theology-on-Tap at Idaho State University. I will continue polishing my “Origin of the Universe” talk for that occasion. I hope to visit the Craters of the Moon National Park while I’m over there.

This week I’ll be presenting a poster of my research on the dance of Saturn’s moons Mimas and Aegaeon. This is taking place at the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Provo, Utah. I just arrived in Provo last night. I’m looking forward to spending this week among fellow planetary scientists. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

Read More

Cassini’s End

Cassini’s End

This Friday, the Cassini spacecraft, which has orbited Saturn since 2004, will end its mission by crashing into Saturn. It happens to be the Catholic memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. It is indeed a sad day to see Cassini go. This spacecraft has transmitted 635 GB of data back to Earth, helping us understand more about the Universe we live in.

Why is Cassini crashing? We intend to send future missions to the Saturn system and especially wish to explore Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus. Although we may not expect to find life on these moons, they possess several conditions for life that we need to study in more detail. For this reason, we need to avoid any possibility of contaminating their environments. The surest way is to crash Cassini into Saturn while there is still enough fuel left to control it. On Monday morning, Cassini received its last gentle push from Titan, altering its orbit enough to plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere this Friday. There is no turning back now.

Cassini completed its first mission back in 2008. Still in good shape, it received funding to continue exploring the Saturn system through additional missions. During its first mission, it released the Huygens probe, which landed on the surface of Titan and transmitted a small amount of data.

I first heard of Cassini in 2008 when I found an exhibit for it at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Back then I never would have thought that I’d be involved in Cassini science. Here I am in grad school though, working on a research project involving Saturn’s rings and moons, thanks to the success of the Cassini spacecraft. The next missions to the outer planets and their moons can’t come soon enough.

Farewell, Cassini.

Read More

Solar Eclipse in Retrospect

Solar Eclipse in Retrospect

 

The two minutes and six seconds of totality I experienced were otherworldly. Time had paused and I was submerged into an ethereal reality. I had spent so much time preparing for this, and yet it passed by so quickly. As the Moon’s shadow had approached from the west, an irrational fear took hold of me and I felt as if I were supposed to resist the imminent darkness but was powerless to do so. Intellectually I knew that was false, and I soon returned to peace once totality began. It was as if a gaping hole in the sky suddenly opened, surrounded by the solar corona. Stars and planets became visible. Was I dreaming? No, this was the awe-inspiring experience of a total solar eclipse.

Here is a two-minute summary video of what I captured:

The first half is simply the eclipsed Sun. The second half is a view of the west to see the approaching shadow along with a sheet spread out in the foreground to display shadow bands in the seconds before and after totality. No video can do justice to a total solar eclipse. It’s the experience of a lifetime.

Read More

Solar Eclipse, Part 6 of 6: How I’ll Spend My Two Minutes of Totality

Solar Eclipse, Part 6 of 6: How I’ll Spend My Two Minutes of Totality

This will be my first total solar eclipse. What I am planning on doing is not necessarily what I would recommend everyone to do. Nevertheless, perhaps these plans can inspire some ideas and spark conversation.

I’ll be in the path of totality somewhere near the Oregon-Idaho border.

Busy testing new equipment, I was caught unaware by this selfie.

The first thing to do at C2 (the second point of contact), which marks the beginning of totality, is remove your eclipse glasses. It’s safe. I will probably spend most of my time just staring at the eclipsed Sun in awe. Sticking out from behind the Moon will be the Sun’s corona and chromosphere. I’ve never seen these before.

Totality is supposed to be as dark as twilight. Some stars and planets will be visible. I will definitely take a few seconds to locate Mercury for the first time (see part 2 for where to look). I’ll have my small pair of binoculars strapped around my neck in part just to make sure I don’t miss this chance to see that elusive innermost planet. Another extra measure I’m taking is wearing an eye patch from twenty minutes before C2 until C2 in order to adapt one eye to the dark. That way, one eye will be more sensitive to dimmer stars and planets, as well as the corona. Ahoy!

At some point during totality, I’ll look around at the horizon, which is supposed to resemble a 360-degree sunset. If there are any animals in my surroundings, this would also be the time I’d take a look at them and examine their reactions to the sudden darkness.

Before you know it, it will be time to count down to C3 (the third point of contact), which marks the end of totality. I’ll want to get a nice last glimpse of the eclipsed Sun before it’s over. Be sure to put your eclipse glasses back on before the blinding brightness of the Sun re-emerges from behind the Moon.

What I won’t be doing during totality

I won’t be looking at my watch or my phone. I downloaded the Solar Eclipse Timer app ($2) that will count down aloud and tell me what to look for during the crucial moments of totality. By listening instead of looking, my eyes will be free to enjoy the event.

I won’t be taking pictures. Actually, I’m setting up my tripod with a super lens attached to a DSLR camera (see picture above) in order to take a 7-minute video. I’ll start recording a couple of minutes before totality, with the Sun in the lower left corner of the field of view (because it’s before local noon for me; otherwise, I’d want the Sun to start in the upper left corner). I’ve tested the magnification; it’s zoomed out enough that even with the Sun’s motion during those seven minutes, it will still be in view until a few minutes after totality. That way, I don’t have to touch the camera or tripod during totality. Since the camera is not a human eye, I can even remove the solar filter a little before totality begins and put it back a little after it ends.

I may sneak a peek at my air thermometer, but I don’t plan on reporting an official datum for the citizen science experiment (see part 5) during totality, just during the partial phases of the eclipse.

I hope the best for everyone attempting to view the eclipse! Clear skies!

 

Read More
content top