That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 083 - Astrobiology and the Search for Life with Jonathan Lunine

Episode 083 - Astrobiology and the Search for Life with Jonathan Lunine

October 28, 2019
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/8385-8385/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=54999">Reimund Bertrams</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=54999">Pixabay</a>
Episode 082 - Extraterrestrial Life and Biosecurity with Jonathan Lunine

Episode 082 - Extraterrestrial Life and Biosecurity with Jonathan Lunine

October 21, 2019

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&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=54999">Reimund Bertrams</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=54999">Pixabay</a>

Episode 081 - The Exoplanet Revolution with Jonathan Lunine

Episode 081 - The Exoplanet Revolution with Jonathan Lunine

October 14, 2019
  1. 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.
  2. In this “part 3” of our interview, Dr. Lunine talked about exoplanets. The discovery of planets outside our Solar System has revolutionized planetary science.
  3. The Kepler space telescope mission, with its nine-year voyage which ended last year, made possible the detection of thousands of planets. It’s now understood, Lunine said, that planet formation is a common part of star formation.
  4. Lunine noted that Cornell University, where he is on the faculty, has many new avenues of astrophysics and planetary science research. The Carl Sagan Institute hosts a multidisciplinary team studying exoplanets.
  5. Half of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics went to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz for their discovery of the first exoplanet around an ordinary star.

Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/ChadoNihi-634818/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=571900">ChadoNihi</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=571900">Pixabay</a>

Episode 074 - Karin Oberg

Episode 074 - Karin Oberg

August 26, 2019
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Episode 073 – Jonathan Lunine

Episode 073 – Jonathan Lunine

August 19, 2019

In this episode we have Jonathan Lunine on the podcast, this time talking to him about his own spiritual journey from Judaism to Catholic Christianity, and from the secular surface of life as a scientist to a deeper life where the beauty of science is one prominent part of a larger whole of human experience. We also get the chance to discuss some of his work in studying the planets during the era when they changed from objects seen through a telescope to worlds we can map and even sample and bring back to our laboratories.

  1. Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, is a member of the board of the Society of Catholic Scientists. He spoke of the influence of reading Carl Sagan’s The Cosmic Connection and receiving Sagan’s advice for pursuing a career in astronomy.
  2. Dr. Lunine has been on the scientific teams leading several missions of space exploration, including Cassini and, now, the James Webb Space Telescope.
  3. He described his early spiritual journey, seeing how science and religion could be intertwined. The journey took him from Jewish family roots to a Methodist church and then to Catholicism. He spoke of being impressed by the connection between the Catholic faith and its Jewish roots.
  4. Astronomers have been excited to learn of the abundance of planets to be found in our galaxy. As Dr. Lunine pointed out, thanks to initiatives like the New Horizons spacecraft, we have turned our “cosmic backyard” into a place where we can study an enormous variety of geology “and even, potentially, biology.”
  5. He expressed gratitude for astronomers and others who became role models embracing the compatibility between science and faith. A key figure, about whom he has made presentations, is the Belgian priest Georges LeMaitre, known as the father of the big bang theory.

This was one of our most enjoyable conversations, and we definitely hope to have Dr. Lunine back on the podcast again.

Episode 069 - Fr. Lawrence Machia OSB and Daniel vanden Berk, part II

Episode 069 - Fr. Lawrence Machia OSB and Daniel vanden Berk, part II

July 22, 2019
  1. For background on Fr. Machia and Dr. Vanden Berk and this interview, see the show notes for Episode 68.
  2. In Episode 69, we mentioned approvingly one of the many books about Galileo, who was central to Fr. Machia’s talk at the conference. The book is Galileo’s Daughter. Contrary to a still-commonplace assumption in popular culture and the average person’s understanding of history, Galileo did not see his life as one centered on conflict with the Catholic Church.
  3. People’s instincts to see a huge conflict between science and religion in our own time deserve to be taken seriously. Co-host Paul points out that, even in his youth, he was interested in the polemic potential between his faith and his interest in geology. This was crystallized (no pun intended) by his reading of Great Geological Controversies, published in 1983 by Oxford University Press. It identified challenges—among scientists themselves—which were raised to previous understandings in geology.
  4. How can scientists of faith, such as the members of the Society of Catholic Scientists, play a role in addressing the conflict between science and religion as it exists today? They can act as witnesses to the compatibility of the two fields of knowledge in their own lives, said Dr. Vanden Berk.
  5. Fr. Machia pointed out that, as expressed by Saint John Paul II, one key to the compatibility is that one discipline does not pretend to do what the other does. Don’t read the Bible as a science text, he said, since science is not what the Bible is about; it spends a relatively tiny amount of time on subjects that might be construed to be science-focused. The two fields of knowledge have their own distinct competencies.
  6. Saint John Paul II wrote about the compatibility of science and religion. Here’s an essay by noted bioethicist Father Tad Pacholczyk on the subject, drawing from John Paul’s insights.
  7. As Fr. Machia points out with reference to the insights of Pope John Paul, one area of relationship between the disciplines of science and religion is the subject of ethics. After all, what’s the point of doing anything, like scientific research, if you’re not thinking about why you’re doing it? In the case of science, humans confront issues of power over creation—and how to exercise that power. That answer is informed by how we see our humanity, and that question was exactly the topic of the SCS conference at which we held this podcast discussion.
  8. Galileo himself wrote about the compatibility of these fields of knowledge in his letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine in 1615. Here’s an essay discussing that letter.

Times continue from the Episode 68 listing.

28:00 Galileo's Daughter

30:00 Biblical minimalism

32:00 Geological arguments about the Flood

34:00 Conflict thesis persistence; Daniel another who never saw the conflict

36:00 Need to teach the contemporary theory, wherever our religious theories place us

37:00 Contributions of Catholic scientists to the future of science: need to respect the "volume argument"

38:00 Galileo on the Bible as not an astronomy textbook

40:00 Past, present and future of science

42:00 Wrapup

Episode 068 - Fr. Lawrence Machia OSB and Daniel vanden Berk, part I

Episode 068 - Fr. Lawrence Machia OSB and Daniel vanden Berk, part I

July 15, 2019
  1. Father Lawrence Machia, OSB, is a Benedictine monk at St. Vincent College and Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. The public can view his 2019 Society of Catholic Scientists presentation on You Tube.
  2. Father Machia’s talk made reference to Galileo’s letter to Benedetto Castelli.
  3. Dr. Daniel Vanden Berk is an associate professor of physics at St. Vincent College.
  4. Fr. Machia and Dr. Vanden Berk, both very interested in astronomy, have worked together on designing planetarium shows on the St. Vincent campus. They have always seen the complementarity of science and religion, faith and reason, in contrast to many people’s rejection of religion based on supposed conflicts with scientific, rational, experiential learning.
  5. Dr. Vanden Berk was intrigued at an early age by the “Cosmos”- series presented on PBS by Carl Sagan, but the program posited a conflict between science and faith.
  6. Among Dr. Vanden Berk’s astronomical adventures: working on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. He has worked with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, processing data captured by the Digital Sky Survey.

Episode timeline:

3:00 Machia's time in college, science to theology

5:00 Machia's beginning to discern a religious vocation

8:00 St. Vincent College and the archabbey

10:00 Pre-novitiate and novitiate

12:00 Vows

15:00 Why TSSM, following on from Lawrence's plans to finish and continue his physics education

16:00 Begin vanden Berk

18:00 Sci-fi influences

20:00 He and his wife's discernment process

22:00 Daniel's early career, the early Hubble mission

24:00 Sky surveys

26:00 Texas sky survey

Episode 040 - Kirby Runyon: Christian planetary scientist

Episode 040 - Kirby Runyon: Christian planetary scientist

December 31, 2018

I had the chance to have an unofficial interview with Kirby Runyon. (Planetary science is a very publicity-heavy field, and planetary scientists often labor under certain constraints regarding their contact with the media. We avoided mentioning his institutional affiliation to emphasize the point that this interview in no way characterizes any official position by his institution. You can find out where he works, and get access to some of his work, via web search if you are curious, and there's a clue around 13:00 as well.)

We opened the interview with a discussion of Kirby's research on surface processes on planets. He works on data returned from the Moon, Mars, and Saturn's moon Titan to evaluate how winds, asteroid impacts, and other forces shape the surfaces of those bodies.

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Episode 039 - Star of Bethlehem

Episode 039 - Star of Bethlehem

December 24, 2018

In this episode we try to give a little workshop on thinking for yourself about a thorny passage in the Bible, specifically what we are to make of this star that supposedly influenced the Magi (wizards? astrologers?) from "the east" to come to Jerusalem looking for Jesus.

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Episode 037 - Jill Pasteris: Christian scientist

Episode 037 - Jill Pasteris: Christian scientist

December 10, 2018

3:00 Jill's career
5:00 Finding companionship as Christian scientists (not Christian Scientists...that's different...)
7:00 "Spiritual beings having a human experience"
8:00 Bioapatite; clearing up "loose ends" making a 20 year career arc
9:00 Apatite and phosphate: environment
13:00 Flint, Michigan: lead and protective minerals
14:00 Raman spectroscopy
16:00 Raman on the Mars 2020 rover; Alian Wang
17:00 Laser pointers, cat videos [the brave new world we live in]
18:00 The physics of Raman
19:00 Why lasers and Raman went hand in hand
20:00 Rayleigh vs. Raman scattering
21:00 Raman spectra
22:00 Raman: a (usually) nondestructive technique
23:00 The lecture example and the ease of sample prep for Raman
25:00 Raman peak heights and thermodynamics
26:00 Fingerprinting vs. understanding