Friday, December 28, 2012

Studying Thousands of Worlds; Defending Life and Conscience on Ours

As a Catholic, I'm expected to take an active part in public life, and contribute to the good of society. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1915, 2239)

Being 'so heavenly-minded that I'm no earthly good' isn't an option. (November 11, 2012; November 9, 2012)

I think it's also important to stop once in a while, look around, and learn a little more about this creation:
"...the things of the world
and the things of faith
derive from the same God...
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159)

"...The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man's intellect and will."
(Catechism, 341)

"...Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral values both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits."
(Catechism, 2293)

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft."
(Psalms 19:2)
As I've said before, worshiping God and refusing to learn about the Almighty's creation doesn't make sense. Not to me.

This week I took a look at what scientists expect from the Kepler Space Telescope next year; a reusable rocket's test flight; and efforts to defend freedom of religion:
  1. Looking for Earth's Twin
  2. 'One Short Hop for a Grasshopper...'
    Flight Test of a Reusable Rocket
  3. Hobby Lobby, Domino's Pizza, and an Archbishop

America: Freedom, Opportunity, and Slow Progress

The United States isn't perfect, but my native land has offered Americans a remarkable combination of freedom and opportunity for more that two centuries.

That freedom and opportunity hasn't been equitably distributed, but I think we're improving. I also think it's well to remember that America is more than the national government:
Today's America isn't run by the pale men who were 'the establishment' in my youth, and that's another topic:

Good News, Bad News, and Challenging the System

We've finally cleaned up some of the legal and social mess left by ethically-dubious decisions of the 18th and 19th centuries. That's the good news.

The bad news is that it's been legal to kill innocent people for decades, as long as the victim is too young, or too sick, to flee or fight. Recently, Americans who have qualms about killing the innocent are being forced to pay for this 'health care.'

Quite a few Americans have decided to challenge the national government's lethal health care mandate. They have help:

1. Looking for Earth's Twin

"First 'Alien Earth' Will Be Found in 2013, Experts Say"
Mike Wall, (December 27, 2012)

"The first truly Earth-like alien planet is likely to be spotted next year, an epic discovery that would cause humanity to reassess its place in the universe.

"While astronomers have found a number of exoplanets over the last few years that share one or two key traits with our own world - such as size or inferred surface temperature - they have yet to bag a bona fide 'alien Earth.' But that should change in 2013, scientists say.

" 'I'm very positive that the first Earth twin will be discovered next year,' said Abel Mendez, who runs the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo....
In February of 2010, astronomers had found 429 planets circling other stars.So far, only "100 or so" planets have been confirmed from the 2,300-plus 'possibles' flagged by the Kepler Space Telescope. Based on Kepler's reliability to this point, scientists think around 80% of the remaining planet sightings will turn out to be real worlds. (

It's possible that before this time next year, Kepler may have spotted another planet that's about the same size as Earth, nearly the same temperature, and in a stable orbit around a star that's a bit like our own.

If that happens, it will be quite exciting. Particularly since astronomers are searching only a tiny fraction of this galaxy's volume:

(, used w/o permission)
"Astronomers have discovered more than 700 alien planets beyond the solar system, and the count is rising all the time. Some are large and hot, and others are smaller and cooler, but scientists are still on the lookout for an Earth twin.

"They just got closer, with the announcement Dec. 5 of a planet found by NASA's Kepler space telescope to lie in the habitable zone around its star where liquid water, and perhaps life, could exist...." (

Vast, Ancient, and Filled With Wonders

Such a discovery might be a shock to folks who seem to be uncomfortable with the idea that God created a vast, immensely ancient, universe. Folks being upset about new ideas is - nothing new.

For example, when some scholars said that other worlds might exist, others decided that there couldn't be any worlds other than the one we're standing on. The 'one world' argument seems to have been that Aristotle said there weren't other worlds: so there weren't. I'm over-simplifying the situation, of course.

The Catholic Church stepped into the debate: and ever since, Catholics have been forbidden to claim that there cannot be other worlds. That was over seven centuries ago, in 1277. (January 29, 2012)

Even if we don't discover 'another Earth' next year, I'm looking forward to what we do learn about this astonishing universe.


It's even remotely possible that we may soon learn that we have neighbors, who are as aware as we are, whose home is another planet: and who are not human. I often use the term "space alien" when referring to these possible neighbors, but agree with Brother Guy Consolmagno:
"...Frankly, if you think about it, any creatures on other planets, subject to the same laws of chemistry and physics as us, made of the same kinds of atoms, with an awareness and a will recognizably like ours would be at the very least our cousins in the cosmos. They would be so similar to us in all the essentials that I don't think you'd even have the right to call them aliens."
(Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? "Brother Astronomer," Brother Guy Consolmagno (2000))
I think it's quite possible that "creatures on other planets ... with an awareness and a will recognizably like ours" exist. That emphatically does not mean that I 'believe in flying saucers.' For one thing, this creation is huge:
"...That vast expanse of time, and the physical size of the universe, is part of why I think we may 'not be alone.' Over the last 1,000,000 years, we've gone from burning our fingers on campfires to plugging leaks in reactors. That's 1/13,030 of the age of the universe, and 1/4,000 the age of Earth. Over the last 100 years, we've gone from having some interesting math that said interplanetary travel might be possible, to robot explorers mapping the outer Solar system.

"If there is life somewhere else in the universe, if it's 'close' on a cosmic scale, and if that life includes someone with the sort of itchy curiosity some of us have - - - That's a lot of 'ifs.'..."
(April 17, 2012)

2. 'One Short Hop for a Grasshopper...' Flight Test of a Reusable Rocket

"Experimental Private Rocket Makes Highest Test Hop Yet"
Miriam Kramer, (December 26, 2012)

"A privately built rocket prototype that could lead to a completely reusable spaceflight system has passed its biggest test yet - a 12-story hop and smooth landing.

"The experimental reusable rocket, called the Grasshopper, made its highest and longest flight yet on Dec. 17, marking the prototype's third successful test by the private spaceflight company SpaceX.

"In the latest test at SpaceX's proving grounds in MacGregor, Texas, the Grasshopper rocket flew for 29 seconds and reached a height of more than 130 feet (40 meters). A video of the Grasshopper test flight shows the rocket soaring up into the Texas sky, then smoothly descending to land on four spindly legs...."

SpaceX and other companies are working at removing a major obstacle to commercial service to low Earth orbit and beyond: replacement costs for launch vehicles.

Even the Space Shuttle used single-use, throwaway fuel tanks and booster rockets. That's been good enough for very limited, government-funded, applications like the International Space Station.

But if people are going to travel to orbiting facilities on a more regular basis, we need something like an airline: with vehicles that are good for more than one flight.

Think about it: how long would an airline last, if the company had to throw away much of each airliner after one trip?

SpaceX isn't alone. Other companies are working on their own reusable transportation systems, and at least one is focusing on the real estate angle:
These are exciting times.

3. Hobby Lobby, Domino's Pizza, and an Archbishop

"Hobby Lobby turns to Supreme Court for mandate relief"
Michelle Bauman, CNA/EWTN News (December 20, 2012)

"Arts and crafts giant Hobby Lobby will appeal to the nation’s highest court after an appeals court ruled the federal contraception mandate does not impose a “substantial burden” on the owners’ religious freedom.

" 'The Green family is disappointed with this ruling,' said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is handling the case.

"He explained that the Christian family that owns and operates Hobby Lobby must now 'seek relief from the United States Supreme Court.'

" 'The Greens will continue to make their case on appeal that this unconstitutional mandate infringes their right to earn a living while remaining true to their faith,' Duncan said....
As I've said before, "freedom" doesn't mean forcing other people to agree with me: or having a national government telling citizens what they're allowed to believe, and what they're not.

The Catholic Church places a high value on each individual's freedom to believe, or not believe:
  • Religious freedom is vital
    (Catechism, 2104-2109)
    • For everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)
I've posted about this before, fairly often:

Supporting Health Care

Health care is a good idea. Catholic bishops have supported some form of universal health care since 1919. (March 16, 2012)

What the Catholic Church doesn't allow 'health care' that deliberately kills an innocent person.

The Catholic Church also insists that all human beings are people, and that ethics exist. That creates an awkward situation for Catholics in today's America:
  • Some actions are always wrong
    (Catechism, 1789)
    • Even if the President says it's okay
      (Catechism, 2242)
  • Human life
    • Is sacred
      (Catechism, 2258)
    • Begins at conception
    • (Catechism, 2270, 2274)
  • Murder is wrong
    (Catechism, 2259-2262, 2268-2269)
The good news is that a remarkable number of Americans take God seriously, and are willing to defy the nation's chief executive. The amazing news is that America's judicial system isn't rubber stamping the President's 'health care' policies.

Finish the Race, Keep the Faith

"Bishops urged to imitate St. Thomas More in mandate fight"
CNA/EWTN News (December 20, 2012)

"Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia has held up the 16th century's Saint Thomas More as a model of courage for bishops in the face of the federal contraception mandate.

" 'America's Catholic bishops cannot simply grumble and shrug, and go along with the mandate now, without implicating themselves in cowardice,' he wrote in a Dec. 19 column for The Witherspoon Institute.

" 'Their current resolve risks unraveling unless they reaffirm their opposition to the mandate forcefully and as a united body. The past can be a useful teacher. One of its lessons is this: The passage of time can invite confusion and doubt - and both work against courage.'

"St. Thomas More, a leading politician of his day, lived at the time of the Anglican schism, when King Henry VIII made himself head of the Church in England. English bishops protested the move at first, but with time all but one, Saint John Fisher, acquiesced to the move....
I think it's easier to see the wisdom of persistence after the fact:
"4 I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."
(2 Timothy 4:7)
What has impressed me so far is that Catholic bishops in America have been unanimous in defying government efforts to make Americans violate our conscience. It is good to have leaders who act like leaders.

Pizza and Principles

"Domino's founder sues over contraception mandate"
Michelle Bauman, CNA/EWTN News (December 17, 2012)

"Tom Monaghan, the founder and former owner of Domino's Pizza, is suing the federal government over a controversial mandate that requires him to violate his Catholic faith in his business decisions.

"The lawsuit described the contraception mandate as 'an unprecedented despoiling of religious rights' that both 'attacks and desecrates a foremost tenet of the Catholic Church.'

"It pointed to Thomas Jefferson's statement that 'No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.'

"Filed Dec. 14 by Thomas More Law Center, the lawsuit challenges a federal mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their firmly-held religious beliefs....
The amoral business owner has been a mainstay of recent fiction, much as the cruel slave owner and lecherous landlord drove the plot in an earlier day. ("A George Jean Nathan Reader;" George Jean Nathan, George Jean Nathan, Arnold Leslie Lazarus; 332, via Google Books (1990))

I'm quite sure that some business owners are ethically challenged. But I think it's fairly clear that some aren't: even if they aren't on the same page as their nation's leadership.

I have nothing against stereotypes, as long as they don't become a substitute for thinking: and that's another topic. (January 15, 2012; March 8, 2011)

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.