Double Halo Around the Sun – Scientific Analysis

My last post featured all the remarkable photos by Joan Weist of a double halo around the sun seen in coastal Rhode Island a few weeks ago. One of those images is found below. My sister Susan was kind enough to forward the photos for scientific analysis to my cousin Michael, an atmospheric scientist. Here is what he said:

“I remember seeing the same optical effect in the sky in eastern Massachusetts that day.   This is called a halo, which always surrounds the sun, and it occurs when there are very thin, very high clouds in the sky (you can see these in the pictures too).  These high clouds are composed of small ice crystals, and in the right conditions (that is, when the ice crystals are of the same shape and are oriented the same way) the sun light is refracted (bent) by the crystals in such a way that the light is separated into its component colors.  The process is similar for a rainbow, which occurs near the ground, though rainbows occur when light is bent by liquid water droplets (rain) falling close to the ground.  Your photos actually show a double halo, with the second one fainter and farther from the sun than the brighter inner halo.  The double halo is much more uncommon, since the conditions needed to make one occur much less frequently.” (italics mine, PI)

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DaVinci would have appreciated this explanation, and marveled too, at Joan’s photos and the halos occurrence in nature.

My blogging efforts have diminished what with the advent of experiments and research in sacred art, delivering summer art workshops, gardening, and walks along the beach.

I wish all my readers the opportunity to take some time off and find a spot that they, too, can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Happy Summer!

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. PHOTO Copyright © 2013 Joan Weist All Rights Reserved

   

The Christmas Star of Bethlehem – Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Even though the vast majority of us are not astronomers, the famous star of Bethlehem still has a great ability to intrigue us especially as it relates to its actual astronomical occurrence. As Christians we believe in the Christmas story, not as legend or myth, but as an actual historical occurrence which led to the Redemption of mankind by the Son of God – Jesus Christ.

There are many elements of the Nativity of Christ that are expressed by the evangelists, and one of the most interesting is the illumination of Israel by a brilliant star at the time of the actual birth of Jesus. The Christmas Star has intrigued artists and poets in its ability to shed light on the truth of the cosmic meaning of Christmas; and in recent years some research has been done using computer animation and astronomical programs to determine if, when, and where it actually occurred.

The EWTN network usually airs a contemporary and extremely popular documentary entitled The Star  (of Bethlehem) (please examine the filmmaker – Rick Larson’s site – for a wonderful, multipart, overview of his documentary: www.bethlehemstar.net/

The following post attempts to determine the birth date of Jesus Christ in light of the astronomical evidence. The quotes I provide are taken from a fascinating study entitled Probable Date of Birth of Christ found in this website: www: copiosa.org/christmas/birth_date.htm by Father William G. Most (Fr. Most’s article offers a summary of the work done by  E. L. Martin, in his book The Star That Astonished the World, ASK Publications).

“In the evening of June 17, 2 BC, there was a spectacular astronomical event in the western sky. Venus moved eastward seemingly going to collide with Jupiter. They appeared as one star, not two, dominating the twilight of the western sky in the direction of Palestine. This conjunction had not happened for centuries, and would not happen again for more centuries. Jupiter was considered the Father, Venus the Mother.

Then not many days later, Venus came within 0.36 degrees of Mercury. On September 11 came the New Moon, the Jewish New Year. This happened when Jupiter, the King planet was approaching Regulus, the King star. Further, there were three conjunctions of Jupiter and Regulus within the constellation of Leo, the lion, which was considered the head of the Zodiac.

Now Genesis 49:10 had foretold there would always be a ruler from Judah, whom Jacob called the lion, until the time of the Messiah. The star Regulus, which astronomers called the King Star, dominated Leo.

The Magi, being astronomers and astrologers, would surely read these signs. (The three conjunctions with Regulus were August 12, 3 BC; February 17, 2 BC, and May 8/9, 2 BC). In Hebrew, Jupiter was called sedeq = “righteous,” a term especially pertaining to the Messiah.

On September 11, Jupiter was close in the constellation of Virgo, the virgin. On September 3rd of 3 BC Jupiter was in conjunction with Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo — Leo the Lion, which was associated with Kings, and the Lion of Judah, as foretold by the dying Jacob in Egypt in Genesis 49:10.

Also, on December 25 of 2 BC, Jupiter stopped for 6 days over Bethlehem. This is a normal motion for Jupiter; it stops twice, and reverses its seeming movement. This may have been the very time the Magi came with their gifts. This was also the time of the Hanukkah festival, during which it was customary for Jewish Fathers to give gifts to their children.

The shepherds watching their flocks in the fields indicate a date either in late summer or early fall.

E.L. Martin [whose research this article is based on] thinks the birth of Jesus was in September, 3 BC (Jupiter in conjunction with Regulus), and the probable date of the Magi was December 25, 2 BC (Jupiter stopped for 6 days over Bethlehem).”

Please don’t forget when we speak in BC time, the “ladder of time” comes down from let us say 10,000 BC to 1 BC, in a descending order, so 3 BC comes before 2 BC.

In AD time (Anno Domini, a Latin phrase which means “the year of Our Lord” the “ladder of time” is ascending, so, we are currently in the year 2012, but as of midnight December 31st, we will then be in the year 2013, or two thousand and thirteen years since the birth of Christ. When this Gregorian Calendar system was developed and applied to western Europe, approximately five hundred years ago, they did not have the sophistication of computer/astronomical observations to correct the date of Christ’s birth, if we agree with Martin’s research, to the year 3 BC.

“The above span of dates (approx. 16 months) coincides with The Slaughter of the Innocents, where Herod killed all males under the age of two years. Herod died shortly thereafter. Interestingly, More than 600 planetariums here and in Europe have revised their Christmas star show to match this work of E. L. Martin.”

594px-Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-18-_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi

The above painting is entitled the Adoration of the Magi by Florentine painter Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337). The Star of Bethlehem is shown as a comet above the child. Giotto witnessed an appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1301.

“Magi were not really just astrologers. They served as court advisors, going from one royal court to another. It would not then be difficult to suppose they had come from a great distance with gifts. In those days all astronomers were acquainted with astrology. They were also mathematicians.” This is the end of Fr. Most’s article.

For more information check out Fr. Most’s website: copiosa.org/christmas/index.htm. As you go down this index on the left hand side you will see Fr. Most’s complete article on the Probable Date of the Birth of Christ. His site has some very interesting articles that can be very helpful in explaining to people – especially children – the origins of Catholic Christmas traditions.

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The above icon was written (painted) in Russia and displays, in a lovely catechetical way, the entire Nativity narrative: the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, the Star of Bethlehem (appearing as a disk with a shaft of light coming down to the cave of the birth, the actual birth of the child Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes by His Blessed Mother – Mary, the coming of the Magi, the washing of the child Jesus, and St. Joseph being visited by an old man in furs (some refer to this last image as the temptation to doubt that confronted Joseph.

Soon after the dream visitation by an angel, St. Joseph realizes the nature of this Child. He understands that he is given the responsibility to care for Him and His mother and raise the child as if He was his very own. St. Joseph does exactly that; he is the epitome of quiet, loving leadership, and a model for all fathers.

St. Joseph is silent throughout the entire Gospel narrative. Yet, his actions speak louder than words. We see in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 1: 18ff) that he ultimately had a thoughtful plan to quietly divorce Mary when he learns that she is pregnant; however, he is not stubborn or hard of heart, for when the angel Gabriel visits him and tells him what is happening he does not rebel and say “No, I will not do it” out of pride or ego. Rather, he changes his plan and trusts the angel’s message which was sent by God to him.

This is so important – and it should speak volumes to us – if we, too, have open hearts and minds to hear what God is telling us in prayer, Scripture, and the grace of the Holy Sacraments. These three sacred tools, along with a holy orthodox spiritual director, will assist us on our path – and like the Star of Bethlehem – lead us to the Christ.

In the immortal words of Tiny Tim Cratchit: “… and a Merry Christmas, everyone!”

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

St. Robert Bellarmine, Galileo, and the Glory of God

Today, September 17th, the Church celebrates the memorial of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. St. Robert was born into a noble Italian family during the crisis filled 16th century – a time of great artistic and scientific achievements and a time of heart breaking dissension within the Catholic Church.

In 1560, St. Robert entered the Society of Jesus, became a teacher, and was ordained ten years later. St. Robert’s Jesuit superiors sent him to the Catholic University in Louvain and there he developed a reputation for scholarship, disputation, and eloquence. When he returned to Rome in 1576, he became a professor of theology and began the systematic dismantling of the Protestant positions on faith and spirituality.

His book Disputations on the Controversies of the Christian Faith criticizing and refuting the Protestant errors was so effective, and caused such a stir throughout Europe, that special faculty positions were established in Protestant colleges in an attempt to refute Bellarmine’s positions.

So why is Saint Robert Bellarmine important for us today?

First, his witness as a scholar and cardinal expresses that the Church must always remain vigilant in its mission to promote the truth and protect its Apostolic and Sacred Tradition. Second, Robert Bellarmine as a Jesuit was loyal to its motto, which is “All for the greater glory of God.” In that motto, you have the structure of a Jesuit’s life, of Saint Bellarmine’s life, for through it he was able to weigh issues in the balance of whether or not they promoted the truth of God’s glory. Allow me to provide a very brief example.

Bellarmine was involved in the early stages of the astronomer Galileo’s difficulties with the Church. In 1615, Cardinal Bellarmine was interested in, and open to, various types of scientific research. He recognized that indeed, the Church’s own astronomers had validated many of Galileo’s scientific observations, and he was certainly knowledgeable of the fact that Cardinal Barberini (the future Pope Urban the 8th) had spoken with Galileo and gave Galileo his personal support.

So what was the problem?

Cardinal Bellarmine said in an open statement that, because Galileo’s scientific theories were not sufficiently supported with solid evidence, then Galileo should follow the position of the Church and call his theories a hypothesis and not scientific fact; and very importantly, he went on to say that, if Galileo’s theories were solidly proven to be true, then care must be taken to interpret Holy Scripture only in accordance with these new scientific truths.

Galileo rebelled against this common sense position. He demanded that his theories be acknowledged as scientific truth and publicly said so. The Holy Office, St. Bellarmine, and the other cardinals had no other choice than to censure him.

They did so not because they completely disagreed with his scientific theories, rather, the censure occurred because Galileo was promoting his ideas as scientific truth when, in reality, he did not have conclusive proof to do so. It should be remembered that St. Bellarmine, in dealing with Galileo, did so “in a sympathetic and not in a heavy handed way.” Bellarmine saw his duty to reason and ethics, and, the decision’s impact on a continent in social and religious turmoil.

Cardinal Bellarmine died in 1621. He was canonized in 1930 and made a Doctor of the Church  a year later.

Galileo had some virtues, however, prudence does not appear to be one of them. As the years went on he continued to do his research; but ultimately got himself into trouble again when he published a book which made his friend, Pope Urban 8th, look like a simpleton.

As a result of this insult, in 1632, he was called to Rome to stand trial for a second time. At that trial the ideas in his new book were examined, and sadly, the case was mishandled on both sides. It was unfortunate that Cardinal Bellarmine was not there to add his reason and judgement. Galileo died ten years later while under house arrest. Many of those years were spent in continued research and writing on various scientific topics.

Cardinal Bellarmine desired to see God glorified, and understood that science, music, art, and architecture were just a few of the ways to do it. He said in one of his essays: “May you consider truly good whatever leads to your goal of the glory of God and your eternal salvation with Him. May you consider truly evil whatever makes you fall away from it.”

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved