Friday night fun: a comet, an eclipse, and a full moon

Tonight, Friday February 10th, promises to give us quite a show in terms of astronomical phenomena. While it may mean a late night for observers, hopefully you’ll be able to sleep in a bit on Saturday morning. A rundown of tonight’s show in the night sky:

Full moon: Tonight you will see the full “snow” moon, which is a fairly accurate name, considering the time of year.

c4ualkrwqayqnhs

An example of what you will see – from EarthSky Twitter Feed

Penumbral lunar eclipse: If you’re in the right spot at the right time, you may see that something seems a bit “off” about the moon tonight, and you’d be right: for a period of about four hours, the full moon will be just slightly passing through Earth’s shadow. The greatest eclipse will occur at 7:44 EST or 4:44 PST. That means for those of us on the West Coast, such as yours truly, it may be difficult to notice any change at all, both due to the amount of light in the sky and the fact that we are near the edge of the eclipse itself.

045p_20110929_mj

Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková

Comet 45P: In the early hours of morning, just prior to  dawn, you will see Comet 45P/ Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova (say that three times fast) streaking through the constellation Hercules. Better take a pair of binoculars for this one – at magnitude +6.5, it will be difficult to see with the naked eye unless you are in an extremely rural area. Start with the handle of the Big Dipper and continue over to the constellation Bootes and green hue of the comet should be visible. Recent evidence suggests, however, that it no longer has a tail, due to a likely close approach to the sun, burning off much of the comet’s ice.

So make some hot chocolate, bundle up, and enjoy a night of looking up at the heavens! Then sleep in tomorrow morning.

Pax.

H/T to Smithsonian Mag, EarthSky, and Sky and Telescope

Persistent Perseids Pierce the Planet

800px-The_2010_Perseids_over_the_VLT

A Perseid meteor over the Paranal Observatory in Chile. By ESO/S. Guisard [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Unless you live in a big city (or are visiting one in a foreign country), you may have noticed an occasional streak across the night sky late at night or early in the morning. This signals that Earth has begun to cross the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle and we are fast approaching the height of one of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year: the Perseids.

This year, however, the show will be extra special, possibly the best in 20 years.

Jupiter has done us a favor this time around, pushing the cometary debris a little closer to Earth. Late at night on August 11th, I highly encourage you to bundle up and head outside. After the moon sets around 1AM, you are in for a spectacular show, if predictions are correct. Astronomers are expecting up to 150 meteors per hour – for those playing the home game, that’s at least two a minute.

Some tips for viewing the meteor shower:

  • The best viewing will be early in the morning, after 1AM when the moon sets.
  • Look towards the northeast, but don’t stay so focused on that point that you lose the rest of the sky.
  • If possible, get away from city lights. I usually go to a campground or a local lake.
  • Bring a jacket so you can bundle up – even if you are in a warm climate, sometimes temperatures at night can get a bit chilly during the summer.
  • Bring a reclining lawn chair or a good blanket to rest on so you can observe comfortably without craning your neck. A sore neck will mean a quick end for your star-gazing.
  • Be patient. I know it’s a weeknight, but try to stay out at least an hour. Not only does this increase your chances of seeing some spectacular sights, it will allow your eyes to adjust fully, which can sometimes take up to 20-30 minutes. Also, the show gets better throughout the early morning.
  • Even though the peak is on Aug. 11/12, the days prior or following should still provide a decent show.
  • Bonus: Bring a good pair of binoculars and see if you can identify any objects in the sky. Mars and Saturn will be in the vicinity of the Moon on August. 11, in the south-southwest sky. That reddish star below Saturn on that night? That will be Antares, one of my favorites to spot.

More information is available from Astronomy Magazine, EarthSky, or any decent Google search.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

On the passing of Mother Angelica

“The sun and all the stars cannot compare with the beauty of one holy soul.” -Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, PCPA, founder of EWTN

Mother Angelica

If there is one thing I hope to express with this blog, with as much as I love astronomy, it is the above sentiment given by Mother Angelica; if there is a second, it is the fact that we are all on a journey to becoming that holy soul, a journey that has twists, turns, hills, and valleys. That’s OK. Mother Angelica experienced that in her own life too.

Mother Angelica, the founder of EWTN, passed to her reward this Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016. Today she was laid to rest in Alabama, her home for almost 60 years (you can read the homily here).

If it were not for Mother Angelica, I probably wouldn’t be a Catholic, much less in seminary studying to be a priest.

About the same time I was first considering the Church after stumbling into a Catholic bookstore, I also discovered the Eternal Word Television Network. The first show I saw on this strange Catholic T.V. network (who knew Catholics had bookstores, much less television stations!) was, you guessed it, Mother Angelica’s famous call-in program. By this time she was in reruns, as she had experienced a severe stroke three years prior to my discovery, but her points were no less relevant. In fact, I have found that the more I have watched her over the years, the more I see that she knew what she was talking about, and could foretell where our society was heading.

So I watched as much of this old nun on T.V. late at night as I could, as I didn’t want my roommates discovering my secret (let’s just say they weren’t fond of Catholics). Mother Angelica, in her straightforward, no-nonsense, and humorous manner taught me about the faith. Along with the catechism lessons I was receiving at the time, and with the many books given to me by the aforementioned bookstore, Mother Angelica imparted to me a foundation in the faith I will cherish to my last days. She was truly a Godsend in my life, and the lives of many others, teaching us about faith, hope, love, beauty, and the value, and necessity, of sacrifice. She taught us about trusting in God, radical obedience, and keeping our hearts open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In other words, she taught us about being followers of Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Mother Angelica, for so readily responding to the Lord’s call, and for following Him in all things, no matter what the cost. If, in my vocation and life, I can emulate your example even by a fraction, then it will have been fruitful. May you come you come to rest in the peace of Christ, and hear those words which we all long for: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter now into your Master’s house…” Thank you, Mother Angelica, for being that beautiful soul, for outshining the sun and all the stars.

Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Requiéscat in pace. Amen.

You can find more about Mother Angelica, including writings and video, at EWTN’s memorial site.

Stephen Colbert, Brian Greene, and Gravity Waves

I know I am a bit late in posting this, but last month, Albert Einstein was proven correct once again (but who’s really surprised at that?): gravitational waves were detected by LIGO, he Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory. This is a huge discovery for the field of physics, one that promises to send ripples through science for decades to come (pun intended).

The waves detected by LIGO are the result of two black holes rotating around each other, leading to an eventual merger. But what does all of this mean? If you recall from high school physics, Einstein said in his general theory of relativity that space-time was similar to a giant rubber sheet. Gravity then is simply the various heavenly bodies resting on that sheet, causing indentations, or distorting the fabric of space-time itself. Einstein predicted further that when two massive bodies rotate around each other, ripples would then be sent out in space-time, similar to the ripples you see in a pond when you skip a rock. These waves are important for the same reason that we study seismic activity in the Earth: as seismic waves in the Earth allow us to form a picture of the interior of our planet, so too would these gravitational waves allow us to study areas of the universe that we are otherwise unable to observe.

But don’t take my word for it; let an actual astrophysicist, Brian Green of Elegant Universe fame, explain the whole thing, with a bit of help from Stephen Colbert:

Looking forward to the discoveries to come in the years ahead!

Pax.

On Paris

By Kriti Shankar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Interior of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, by Kriti Shankar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My heart hurts for the people of Paris today. I cannot begin to fathom what they are going through. I think of the two exchange students our school hosted last year; they were both from France. I wonder what they are going through right now. I remember the french man I met on a train in New Zealand, and I consider whether or not he is in Paris, and what he and his family must be thinking right now.

What are we to do in times such as these?

Pray. Hope. Trust in God. Meet violence with peace, ugliness with beauty and falsehoods with truth.

It has become clear since the attacks last night that they were perpetrated by terrorists from ISIS. When we pray for the repose of the souls who died last night, we must keep those responsible in our prayers as well. When we pray for the victims, we need to pray for the perpetrators of these horrible acts. For our own part, we must also educate ourselves, know what is going on in the world, do what we can to spread Truth, and leave the rest to God.

Pope Francis called last night’s events part of a “piecemeal World War III.” Is he right? I don’t know. But what I do know is that we must stand together with our French brothers and sisters, and all those who come under the shadow of terrorism, of evil, and proclaim the Light that banishes all darkness.

Pray for the victims. Pray for those responsible. Pray for each other, and never lose hope.

Our Lady of Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes

Nous vous saluons, Reine, Mere de misericorde, notre vie, notre joie, notre esperance, salut. Enfants d’Eve, nous crions vers vous de fond de notre exil. Nous soupirons vers vous, gemissant et pleurant dans cette vallee de larmes. O vous notre advocate, tournez vers nous vos regards misericordieux. Et apres l’exil de cette vie, montrez nous Jesus, le fruit beni de vos entrailles, tendre, aimante, douce vierge Marie. Priez pour nous, sainte Mere de Dieu. Afin que nous devenions dignes des promesses de Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pope Francis: Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria on Saturday

On Sunday during his Angelus address, Pope Francis announced a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, to occur Saturday, September 7:

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.

Later on, he references Pacem in Terris, written by Pope John XIII:

What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love.

Finally, the details surrounding the day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria:

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00 [1-6pm Eastern, 10am-1pm Pacific], we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

My friends, there is no denying that the situation in Syria is grave. Action must be taken. But our action must be informed by the Gospel; we need to be instruments of justice and love. This Saturday, pray for peace in Syria, and let us always remember to pray for peace throughout the whole world.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Pax et bonum.

PS: H/t to to Rocco Palmo. For a full transcript of Pope Francis’ talk, as well as video of the address (you’ll need to brush up on your Italian), head on over to the original post.

Oklahoma

helping-hands

My heart goes out to those affected by the destruction caused in the wake of the Oklahoma tornadoes.

How do we explain such unspeakable disaster? The truth is, we can’t, not really. Not on this side of eternity, anyway. From a Christian perspective, we know that God brings good out of all things. Even so, sometimes we simply cannot explain what happens. When that’s the case, we help where we can and, most importantly, we pray.

Pray for all those affected by the devastation, and if you can, lend a helping hand. Catholic Charities is a good place to start. Here are some other ideas as well.

Pax et bonum.

Trust, Humility, and Pope Benedict’s Resignation

PopeBenedictXVI

When I woke up this morning, I expected a day of quiet rest. After all, being a school employee, we have almost every holiday known to man off of work, and so we celebrate Lincoln’s birthday with a day of  relaxation, and in my own case, visiting friends as well.

But then I received news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Granted, my plans for the day aren’t changing, and I don’t envy people like the good Cardinal Dolan who now have the daunting task of electing Papa Ben’s successor (if you don’t see the video below click here):

So while the day itself may not change much for me, all of this certainly has me in a reflective mood. Seven years ago, just a few months after the election of the Holy Father, I was baptized into the Catholic Church. I took Benedict as my baptismal name for two reasons: the famous founder of western monasticism from the early medieval era, and the wonderful priest, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who had just been elected to the See of Peter. Both he and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, had been, and continue to be, a huge influence on my life of faith.

Pope Benedict’s resignation shows great humility and trust in the Lord, just like the rest of his priestly life. The news may be a surprise,  particularly since he is the first pope to resign in over six hundred years, but I believe that it is a good example for the rest of us. Sometimes life can throw unexpected curve-balls (Pope Benedict himself was expecting to have a quiet retirement before being elected to the See of Peter), but so we are called to live in those moments, trusting that the Lord has a plan in it all. All of this is also a lesson in humility: sometimes we must face the Lord, laying down our own will, or the will of others, and look at the greater good, seeking the will of the Lord alone. Sometimes that means difficult and courageous decisions. Through it all, however, grace is always present.

Let us remember to keep Pope Benedict in our prayers over the coming weeks. We must also pray for the cardinals and the unenviable task that now rests before them in electing a successor to this faithful man of God who has served in the Chair of Peter. Finally, let us pray for Pope Benedict’s successor, whoever that may be, that he will approach his new task in prayer, humility, and fidelity to the will of God.

I think that the words from my own Bishop, His Excellency Jaime Soto of Sacramento, say it all so well:

“True to his deep devotion for the church and a humble regard for himself, Pope Benedict, with personal courage and pastoral solicitude, has placed the care of God’s people first. This is a historic transition for the church. As always, we will rely on the wisdom and mercy of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.”

May we all be so humble and faithful to the Lord. Thank you Papa Ben for your witness to Truth! Viva il papa!!

Other resources:

Pax et bonum.

California’s Gold

I was saddened to hear of the death of Huell Howser (featured in the above video), who passed a couple of days ago at 67 years old.

Howser will best be remembered by his iconic television program here in California on PBS entitled California’s Gold. For those of you outside the Golden State, his show chronicled those far-flung places that not many people see, yet contain the true spirit of California. He brought to life places such as the Skunk Train, the traditional harvest in the Central Valley, or the California Special Olympics. Treasures such as Sinatra’s House, Springtime in Death Valley, and yes even gold itself*, are detailed in a way that was truly special to Howser. His curiosity and wonder were contagious, and he had a knack for drawing you in with the stories he covered.

Monument commemorating the site of John Marshall’s discovery of Gold

When I was a kid, I hated his show. I thought it was boring. But then again, most adult shows on PBS are boring to a lot of kids. As I grew up, however, I came to really appreciate Howser’s unique delivery and trademark sign-off. He also introduced me to many nuggets and tidbits of California history that I never would’ve come across in the first place.

As Howser would be sure to confirm, California is a special place, a wonderful place of beauty, diversity, and culture. With all of its problems, California continues to be a place where dreams are realized, and a beautiful sunset on the beach or mountain vista is never too far away. One of my own personal favorite sights is flying in to Sacramento at night over downtown and catching a glimpse of the golden Tower Bridge, a breathtaking view, especially for one who has been away from home for a while. I was born and raised here, and in my short time on this Earth, I’ve seen California go through a lot of changes, good and bad. No matter where life takes me, however, California will always hold a special place in my heart, and Huell Howser had a hand in carving out that place, even though he never knew it.

Mr. Howser, God bless you for your wonderful work, seen and unseen, on behalf of the Golden State.

Requiescat in pace.

You, sir, were truly a part of California’s Gold.

*Note: If you are ever in the foothills of California, east of Sacramento in the Placerville area, check out Coloma, where gold was discovered in 1848. The town is a terrific place for families, full of history, and there’s a few nice outdoor excursions, in addition to camping. The locals are great people too. Fair disclosure – I’ve had family in the “Motherlode” area and surrounding hills all my life, and spent many summers, a lot of high school, and generally a large amount of time up there. My opinion may be biased. Oh, and this post was not endorsed by this agency, although you should come and visit sometime… 🙂

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

Or not.

On a side note, I highly recommend checking out more of Dr. Tyson’s work. I may disagree with him in regards to religion, but as far as astrophysics goes, he is humorous and engaging, bringing difficult concepts to the people and enlivening their interest in the development of science and technology.

Anyways, on to the point at hand…

I came from a New Age and Pagan background before being baptized in 2005, and so I am well versed in a lot of these subjects. Planet Nibiru/X, the shift to a higher consciousness, psychic energies, and enlightenment in the “aquarian” sense were all very much a part of my life and study for several years. I devoured any books that I could find, and I really believed some of this stuff. Coast to Coast AM was my favorite radio show (actually, I do still listen to it except when there are more…outlandish…guests on the air).

But I eventually found that these theories did not hold up. They did not make sense. There was no “proof” to their validity. Around the same time, I came in contact with the Church, and while that is a much more in depth story, the rest is, as they say, history. In fact, it was my love of subjects such as theoretical physics and quantum theory that helped to draw me closer to the faith. In their beauty, I found the imprint of the Creator of the Universe. I found real Truth in the Faith.

But I digress, as usual. I can hear some people now: “Well Catholicism doesn’t have proof either!” No, it doesn’t. At least not the empirical evidence that our society seeks. The evidence is there, if one is willing to open his or her heart to it. Picking up a history book or two doesn’t hurt either. In the case of the Doomsday supporters, however, there is literally no evidence. Everything they have put forward has been disproven and is not well-researched. The Mayan calendar ending? That’s just a coincidence. The Mayans themselves didn’t believe that the world would end. The alignment with the galactic core? As Dr. Tyson points out, that happens every year. Planet X? There is not a shred of gravitational or other types of evidence to say that there is a rogue planet barreling down on us right now. Besides, we would have already felt the effects of it (extreme tides submerging San Francisco, anyone?).

We need to stop worrying about all of these end-times theories  Only the Lord knows when the world will end. What we must worry about is our lives as they are right now. Are we striving to love God and neighbor? Do we reach out to others, and work to deepen our relationship with Him? All of our actions, even the most mundane daily activities, should strive toward these goals, toward this Love.

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt. 24:36-44)

My prophecy? Just like this guy, the doomsday prophets will pull back and make new “predictions” on December 22. May the Lord grant us the grace to seek Him in all things…

Pax et bonum.