Archive for August 2006

At the Intersection of Astronomy and Religion

August 28, 2006

…sits the Vatican’s Astronomer. Until this week, that’s been Rev. George Coyne, who, along with fellow Vatican Astronomer, Brother Guy Consolmagno, has been known to be more than a little controversial his approach to some topics.

The new Vatican Astronomer will be Fr. Jose Funes, 43, of Argentina.

The Catholic tradition is not the Fundamentalist tradition. Catholics do not take a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible, and indeed, there is a strong tradition of science teaching in the Church that long precedes Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), one of the founders of modern genetics.

So it is important to know that the dispute between “Church” and “Science”, especially re: evolution, is not a dispute about the facts: Evolution is a fact. It’s “survival of the fittest” that is a theory. It’s the jump from there to the place at which God is not needed to explain the workings of the universe that’s untennable. The misrepresentation of our understanding of physics, cosmology and even simple mechanics as an understanding with no need of God is an indictment of both teachers and scientists. Everyone who thinks that, even in principle, everything can be explained or understood without reference to God represents a failure of science and science teaching.

It looks like Pope Benedict has taken his flock at least one step in that direction, and maybe several.

Deserving of All The Hoopla it Gets

August 21, 2006

Dark Matter really exists. And that, in and of itself, is a remarkable statement. The linked article shows very clearly why this is a remarkable bit of science.

Yes, But Will The Cease Fire Hold?

August 16, 2006

After a decade’s long struggle, it looked like the civil war between the Pluton separatist faction and the rest of the IUA may have reached a surprising compromise in Prague yesterday. Though controversial, the so-called Two Planet Solution offers hope that the warring factions can all peacefully co-exist in the solar system by, surprisingly, promoting the tiny planetoid of Ceres to full planet-hood, and allowing Pluto to maintain it’s status, but only by tacitly recognizing that it will not be allowed to retain the title of planet except by continuing its gravitational alliance with Charon.

Although this immediately opens the door to recently recognized 2003 UB313, which will also immediately petition to join the ranks of planets, the situation is much less clear for Sedna and Quaoar. Some sources inside the IAU indicated their displeasure at the possibility that the compromise will allow many more bodies in the organization. Caltech’s Mike Brown, who first spotted UB313 late in 2002:

applauded the committee’s efforts but said the overall proposal is “a complete mess.” By his count, the definition means there are already 53 known planets in our solar system with countless more to be discovered.

Brown and other another expert said the proposal, to be put forth Wednesday at the IAU General Assembly meeting in Prague, is not logical. For example, Brown said, it does not make sense to consider Ceres and Charon planets and not call our Moon (which is bigger than both) a planet.

There was no immediate comment from the moon. Other astronomer-insergents voiced their displeasure at the very definition of planets proposed:

“It looks to me like a definition that was written by a committee of lawyers, not a committee of scientists,” Boss said. “I think these criteria are as arbitrary as any other you might come up with.”

Still, with it’s history of once having been called a planet, the promotion of Ceres, whom many consider to be a “mere asteroid”, has caused little dissension in the ranks of international astronomers. It is, rather, the recognition of the Plutons, with Pluto as their founder and assumed leader, that stunned both sides. It is not clear that this will be enough to assuage the militants, when coupled with the rise in fortunes of it’s former moon, and now planetary partner, Charon.