The Purpose of Beauty and the Great American Eclipse

Something strange was happening – the sky darkened and took on an eerie character, almost like twilight but something different altogether. A cool breeze picked up, the temperature noticeably dropping. 10:15 in the morning and stars started to twinkly forth along with objects in our own solar system, the planet Venus clearly visible just above us. The sun, that once constant companion in the sky, never-failing and always life-giving, was losing it’s hold, disappearing behind the transient moon. For a moment, one could almost say that a diamond ring hung in the sky, beckoning for someone to come and grasp it.

Then it happened: totality was upon us.

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Total Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA

Twilight surrounded us on all sides and night seemed to descend right above us. The glowing ring that was the eclipse stared back as if an eye peered down from the heavens. Through my binoculars, shots of hot plasma sprouted from the surface of the sun, reaching out into space for 100,000 kilometers or more, enough to engulf our small place in space in flames if the Earth were right next to it’s normally life-giving star. White wisps of the sun’s corona danced around and seemed to envelop the moon itself, putting on display a sight that unaided eyes rarely get to see, all at once fleeting and fragile yet demonstrating the power and energy contained within the burning-hot heavenly body. The world was silent, focusing on this strange phenomena which hadn’t been seen in this part of the world for 38 years and would not return for another 28 years. Mesmerized by the sight in the sky, I was moved to prayer, thankful for God’s creation, the beautiful intricacy of His universe, and the blessed opportunity to witness this awe-inspiring event, which for many people, may be the only chance they have in their lives to see it.

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Time-lapse of total eclipse over Madras, OR. Photo Credit: NASA

No words can adequately capture the moment of totality during the 2017 Great American Eclipse. No pictures or video can do it justice if you didn’t have a chance to see it in person, although I still highly recommend finding those pictures and watching some of those videos (being wary, of course, of some social media photoshop fakes that are floating around). Viewing a total eclipse is a life-changing event, with the potential to alter one’s view of the world.

The total eclipse is a reminder, however, that no matter what beauty we behold here on Earth, it is all a foretaste of that ultimate beauty, love, and truth for which we strive to be with for eternity in Heaven. While the eclipse was wonderful, it is a reminder that just as it was fleeting, our own lives are fleeting as well, and we must remember that we should be preparing ourselves for something so wondrous, so fantastic, that nothing we see here on Earth, not even a total eclipse, can ever approach the magnificence of residing forever in it’s presence: I am of course talking about that beauty and truth which we will experience in the Beatific Vision. With all of the excitement surrounding an event such as the eclipse, we need to remind ourselves that all of it, no matter how wonderful, should be used to glorify God, who gave us His only Son, and leaves His Spirit with us always, to guide us and draw us closer to Him.

The Great American Eclipse inspired millions to learn and grow, but it’s primary purpose in this writer’s opinion? To serve as an example of the beauty of His creation and remind us that He remains with us always, whether in the celestial heavens or here on our Earthly home. May God be praised in all we do.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his love endures for ever;

who alone has wrought marvelous works,
for his love endures for ever;
whose wisdom it was made the skies,
for his love endures for ever;
who fixed the earth firmly on the seas,
for his love endures for ever.

It was he who made the great lights,
for his love endures for ever;
the sun to rule in the day,
for his love endures for ever;
the moon and the stars in the night,
for his love endures for ever.

-From Psalm 136

The next total solar eclipse to hit the United States, although on a massively different trajectory will occur on April 8, 2024. Personally, I wouldn’t mind heading to Argentina in 2019. Anyone want to go?

Juno’s Jovian Journey is Just Beginning – Quick Facts

Late last night, or early this morning depending on your time zone, NASA’s Juno spacecraft completed a successful insertion into Jupiter’s orbit. The maneuver, considered the most risky of the entire mission was televised live (about as live as you can get due to the 35+ minute signal delay from the giant planet) via NASA. Take a look at the little probe that could:

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Juno spacecraft detail, via NASA. Original higher-res (easier reading) here

Why is this mission important? Juno will be only the second close-up look we will have had of the giant planet, and the science that it helps to complete promises to give further clues about our solar system and Earth itself. Juno takes its name from the Greek goddess, who was the wife of Jupiter and subsequently exposed Jupiter’s…immoral…endeavors, which he had been trying to hide. The Juno spacecraft is also meant to expose Jupiter, but in a much less embarrassing, and much more useful, manner…

Even Google got in on the Juno jubilation:

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Screenshot of today’s Google doodle

Here are some quick facts about Juno’s ongoing mission:

  • Launched: August 5, 2011
  • Arrived: July 4, 2016
  • Total time to reach Jupiter: 5 years
  • Total distance travelled to reach Jupiter: About 19 AU, which included an Earth gravity assist in 2013 (For those playing the home game, the distance from Earth to Jupiter ranges from 4 to 6 AU. Why didn’t Juno fly straight to Jupiter? Because planets move, making even a manned Mars mission difficult…)
  • Speed approaching the Jovian system: 74 km/s
  • Current speed: 0.5 km/s
  • Current orbital period: 53 days
  • Orbital period after a realignment in October 2016: 14 days
  • Total planned “science orbits” after realignment: 33
  • Projected end of mission: After a total of 37 orbits in February 2018, after which Juno will plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere, incinerated in a fiery cataclysm of space exploration awesomeness.
  • Lego minifigures on board: 3 (seriously)
  • Twitter accounts: 1 (@NASAJuno)

I highly recommend visiting the following Juno sites: Space.com, NASA, and the Juno YouTube Channel

Until I can post some of the sure to be wonderful pictures from the Juno mission and other tidbits, which might be a while considering I am currently a tad busy*, keep looking up!

Todoa gloria a Dios.

*Speaking of which, a new Aventuras post will be coming up in a couple of days. You can check out the last one here.

Updated: The Beauty of Creation

The Beauty of Creation

Yosemite Winter Night Courtesy of Astronomy Photo of the Day

Before I converted to Catholicism, I always had the understanding that the Church was against science. I spent years studying (as an amateur) subjects such as theoretical physics and astronomy, and I continue to today when I can. I enjoy math, but certainly not to the extent of people like this, who may disagree with me from the religious perspective, but nevertheless are very skilled at making difficult scientific theories accessible to the general public. In any case, I always thought that these topics were eschewed in Christian circles. Boy was I wrong.

Example: the originator of the what would become the Big Bang Theory was a Jesuit Priest, Georges Lemaître (please hold the Jesuit jokes for later, thank you). Sure, there have been moments where the Church hasn’t always been a shining example of scientific openness, but even those times are almost always blown out of proportion and taken out of context.

Anyways, as I grew to learn more about the Faith, I realized that the Church did not neglect science. In fact, particularly in the modern-day world, the Church is a bastion of good, thorough, and ethical scientific practice and theory. I eventually discovered what so many others have found: science and religion are simply two sides of the same coin. They both lead to Truth, albeit in their own ways. Both science and religion, if handled properly without presuppositions, both reveal the same God of Love that us Catholics are so familiar with.

I believe the opening words of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor says it all:

The splendor of truth shines forth in all the works of the Creator and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26). Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord. Hence the Psalmist prays: “Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord” (Ps 4:6).

When I spend time in nature, whether I am hiking, fishing, or stargazing during a campout, I can not help but see the imprint of the Creator, this same splendor of truth. In the beauty around us, contained in the natural world and the very people who are a part of our lives, we are given a glimpse of the Divine. Slow down and take a look. Spend a moment or two with the Creator. How does He reveal Himself in your life?

Happy (early) Feast of the Epiphany!

Pax et bonum,

Dean

PS: As a side note, one of the best meteor showers this year will be the Perseids on August 12-13. The moon sets before midnight, leaving a promising opportunity for viewing. While the peak will be on the above listed days, you should still get quite a show the previous weekend of August 10-11. Might be a good time for a camping trip…

UPDATE: Dr. Kaku has posted a fascinating video entitled “Math is the Mind of God.” Check it out. His analogy of music, hyperspace, and the mind of God comes very close to how Tolkien describes the creation of Middle-Earth in The Silmarillion. I would say, however, that Dr. Kaku gets a little too close to reducing God to an equation…