- Dr. Jonathan Lunine is the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Science and chair of the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University. He is also the vice president and a co-founder of the Society of Catholic Scientists.
- In this “part 5” of our interview, Dr. Lunine notes that planetary science was not always a distinct field. It drew upon components of astronomy or the geological study of the moon, for example. Astrobiology, with a goal of studying microbial life forms that may be found on exoplanets, is now at the point of relative infancy where planetary science stood about 50 years ago.
- Enceladus, one of the dozens of moons orbiting Saturn, is one site worth inspecting in the search for life. It could be based on carbon-bearing molecules different from those found in Earth life. The Cassini mission reported on plumes of water vapor and ice emanating from that moon. Dr. Lunine was part of a group proposing a mission called Enceladus Life Finder.
- Saturn’s moon Titan has seas filled with liquid methane. Could there be a form of biochemistry that works in liquid methane? It’s worth looking for, Dr. Lunine said.
- The Society of Catholic Scientists, with more than 1,000 members, is expanding its activities. The international group’s next annual meeting will consider the possibility of extraterrestrial life and the implications of such discoveries relevant to faith. The conference will be held in June 2020 at Providence College.
- Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/8385-8385/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=54999">Reimund Bertrams</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=54999">Pixabay</a>
In this week's episode, we discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life in our own solar system. Dr. Lunine talked about extraterrestrial life. It’s very possible that at least microbial life exists on other planets, he said, but the chances of complex, multicellular life are much more difficult to estimate.
We simply don't know what the possibilities are for life beyond the chemistry that it uses here on Earth. A potential tragedy that we would want to avoid at almost any cost would be the introduction of terrestrial microbes into a viable environment elsewhere, where they could become invasive species, grow and potentially outcompete the native life, which we would never get the chance to study and understand. NASA and other space agencies have policies in place to address this risk... hopefully, they will work.
Dr. Jonathan Lunine is the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Science and chair of the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University. He is also the vice president and a co-founder of the Society of Catholic Scientists.
Christianity and Extraterrestrials?: A Catholic Perspective , by Marie George, is a book worth reading, Dr. Lunine said.
He thanked all those who spoke at the 2019 conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists, and he commented on the high quality of the event. The website provides links to several TSSM episodes interviewing conference speakers.
Watch videos of speakers here.
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/8385-8385/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=54999">Reimund Bertrams</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=54999">Pixabay</a>
- Karin Öberg is Professor of Astronomy and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University. Planetary formation—or stars and stellar evolution—is a focus of her research. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Catholic Scientists. See her CV here.
- Öberg spoke of her first academic route to astronomy being via chemistry rather than physics. She discovered the field of astrochemistry while an undergraduate at the California Institute of Technology. She earned her PhD in astrophysics at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
- She joined the faculty at the University of Virginia in 2012. One year, later, she received an assistant professorship at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which is located at Harvard.
- Öberg was baptized as a Christian in her youth but then drew away from the faith. She said she never adopted an atheistic, materialistic perspective largely because of two key principles she holds to: moral realism and one’s personal agency as an individual making free decisions.
- During her college years, Christianity remained a living question for her partly because of the friends with whom she associated. Books influenced her deeply: Lord of the Rings, The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, and Orthodoxy. This combination brought her back to Christianity, first in the Anglican Church.
- After joining the faculty at Harvard, she completed a two-year RCIA program at St Paul’s Parish in Harvard Square to join the Catholic Church. One concern she felt in her new Catholic experiences, she said, was that the statements in the Mass did not always seem to line up with personal beliefs articulated by individuals.
- Öberg said she has not personally experienced any bias against her Catholicism at Harvard, and indeed she has felt welcomed in the astronomy community and among other colleagues. She helps to mentor some Catholic and Christian students. Some Catholic colleagues have experienced prejudice, in the biology department, for example. She said one factor is that her research does not touch on any controversial subjects. But she wants to let students know they should not be anxious about living out their Catholic faith because of fear of prejudiced encounters. Overall, being open about one’s faith has a net positive effect on oneself and others, despite occasional crosses one might have to bear.
What do we want to do in this podcast?
Goals for the year
Values of experience, e.g. Mexico: solar ovens from recycled materials
Credit consulting, etc., for exploited women in Mexico
The little estate in Mexico
Back to credit cards & exploitation of ignorance
Responsibility of those to whom much is given
Bringing it around to science
Career and sacrifice and little deaths
Chris, the handicapped man at the ND Center for Social Justice
The ethics of "fixing" or preventing Chris from being the way he is
The lack of philosophic background and the intellectual amnesia of contemporary science
Philosophy of science and the disappointment of 20th century physics, but the culture goes on unaware
Science, fundamentally cannot replace faith
...this is where Patricia makes that claim that science is about control
Ethics of changing human beings, other elements of creation
Bill poses the relativism question again
Patricia responds that "you can control science"
Everyone confronts the same Reality, and we cannot control it, but we prefer the illusion that we can