Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Space Missions Reveal New Wonders: Grace Still Waits in the Heavens as We Learn to Accept Our Humble Place in the Universe

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Space Missions Reveal New Wonders: Grace Still Waits in the Heavens as We Learn to Accept Our Humble Place in the Universe

Article excerpt

Though barely middle-aged, I am old enough to remember a time when Earth was just a lonely blue planet amid the heavens. I remember, too, that precise moment when man's gaze turned upward, in awe. It was the winter of 1968, the worst period of the war, and I was a child living in Vietnam. But on TV, instead of the regular news about the war, three peculiar creatures danced on a barren landscape.

Until that moment, I had believed what my grandmother told me: that a beautiful moon goddess resided on the silver globe that hung outside my window. But by stirring up the lunar dust with their metallic boots, the American astronauts effectively debunked the goddess' corporeal existence.

In her place is a radical shift in human psyche regarding its relationship with the rest of universe.

Consider these astonishing discoveries made in the last decade:

* Using the Hubble Telescope, which orbits Earth, astronomers have discovered other solar systems--planets going around stars. One planet in particular is believed to have an atmosphere.

* We know that Earth is constantly bombarded by meteors when we look up into the night sky and spot shooting stars. But more astounding is what astronomer Lou Frank speculated about a decade ago and found new evidence for only recently. Using the Hubble Telescope to study Earth's atmosphere, Frank proved that Earth is constantly hit by snowballs from space. The implications are enormous: If snowballs from outer space bit Earth regularly, it is "snowing" elsewhere also, onto other planets, providing much-needed water for the primordial soup.

* A few years ago a meteorite from Mars found on Earth, known as the Allan Hills meteorite (ALH 84001 to scientists), astonished everyone when some scientists claimed they found tantalizing traces of fossilized life within it. Their findings have been contested, but the meteorite renewed enthusiasm for the idea of panspermia (Greek: all-seeding)--the interstellar exchange of DNA, a theory that was championed by Francis Crick, who discovered the DNA molecule with two other scientists hall a century ago.

* The Galileo space probe that orbited Jupiter showed us that on Europa, one of Jupiter's many moons, huge oceans lie beneath ah icy surface, as well as active volcanoes--that is to say, the ingredients that could spark and possibly support life.

Until quite recently, we humans have been egoceniric when explaining our place in the universe. …

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