From the Dust: How the universe became fruitful for life

Star cluster. NASA, ESA & E. Sabbi (ESA:STScI) 678125main_hubble_sparkles_full_full
Two clusters of massive stars that may be in the early stages of merging. NASA, ESA & E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI)

How can a universe that seems so cold, dark, and sterile become a place where life can flourish? This is one of the questions that the astronomer Dr Jennifer Wiseman asked in her seminar at the Faraday Institute last month. In her talk, part of which I have summarised here in my own words, she explained why the cosmos can be seen as a very fruitful place – and why this idea is compatible with her own sense of  purpose for the world.

Jennifer grew up on a farm in Arkansas, where she came to know the stars in a way that those of us who have lived in light-polluted cities all our lives could never appreciate. She went Continue reading

Love Me to the Moon?

By ulrikebohr570 – pixabay. Public Domain
By ulrikebohr570 – pixabay. Public Domain

Anyone who was up at around 2 or 3 am on Monday last week might have seen a rare astronomical event. Lunar eclipses happen at least once or twice a year, but this one was unusual because it happened when the moon appeared larger and brighter than at any other point in the month. The next ‘supermoon’ eclipse’ is due in Continue reading

Curiosity: The search for life on other planets

© Carter Roberts, NASA
© Carter Roberts, NASA

Being chosen to pick the name for a major piece of space exploration must be one of the coolest things that could ever happen to a kid. This is what happened to Continue reading

Star Gazing

© Ben Earwicker, www.garrisonphoto.org
© Ben Earwicker, http://www.garrisonphoto.org

What kind of star did the Magi think they were following? Coming from east of the Holy Land, they may well have been from Babylon or Persia, both of which had a rich tradition of astronomy. They would probably have had a very sophisticated understanding of the movements of the heavenly bodies. On the other hand, they (understandably) knew nothing about plasma and the nuclear fusion that powers every star in the sky.

The idea of tracking a great flaming ball of gas and energy might sound less romantic than the wise men’s tale, but it does stir the imagination. To my mind, the formation of a vast and ancient universe is a magnificent prelude to the visit of God himself in human form.

2014 has seen an unprecedented level of space exploration. Continue reading

Two Ways to Truth

Photo from Test of FAITH. © The Faraday Institute
Photo from Test of FAITH. © The Faraday Institute

Many of us have looked up at the night sky and felt a sense of awe and wonder before the universe. This experience made Revd Dr Rodney Holder, former Course Director at the Faraday Institute, want to be an astronomer from about the age of seven. Here, he reflects on his work as an astrophysicist and how that connects with his faith.

Nowadays, because there is so much light pollution in Britain, I most often get that feeling of awe and wonder when I’m on holiday. A few years ago my wife and I were in Croatia, staying in a small hamlet, and on balmy nights we sat out on our balcony and gazed up at the sky, counting shooting stars. On another holiday we were in Peru, high up in the Andes, when we saw the night sky of the Southern hemisphere in all its glory for the first time.

The writer of the Psalms must have Continue reading

Reimagining Job

Orion Nebula, NASA, ESA, M. Robberto & Hubble Orion Treasury Project Team
Orion Nebula, NASA, ESA, M. Robberto & Hubble Orion Treasury Project Team

I recently got together with some scientists and theologians to study part of Job. The final few chapters (38-42) of this book are a description of God’s role in creating and sustaining the universe and everything in it: the Sun and stars, Earth and sea, weather and wild animals. Stars move in their courses, weather changes and animals behave in their different ways. We didn’t make any of these things ourselves [1] and we have very little control over them, even with today’s scientific knowledge.

But are we any less awe-struck because we now understand how some of these processes work? If so, how can we identify with the Continue reading

Predictable Universe?

Two planets. Gilderm, http://www.sxc.hu/
Two planets. © Gilderm, http://www.sxc.hu/

Over the last few years, the universe has started to look increasingly friendly to life, and scientists who previously said they didn’t expect to find living things on other planets are beginning to change their tune. NASA’s Kepler telescope may be largely non-functional, but the search for other organisms in the Universe is just beginning.

Last month at the Faraday Institute, astrobiologist Stephen Freeland gave a lecture entitled, ‘Will alien life share our genetic code?’ – a topic which would have been on the border of science fiction a couple of decades ago, but is now a serious question. Continue reading