Yesterday was day two of ACME2024. As is customary, Br. Guy asked me to start with an introduction to the group. And what a group it is! Amid the participants we have everything from professional scientists, professional theology teachers, priests, laity and people who are simply curious about the night sky.
I shared some of the themes from our last ACME with this group, focusing on my journey with basic astrophotography. I encouraged them to view this week as a means to practice in Pope Francis’ proposed new spiritual work of mercy of contemplating creation. In addition, I felt moved to encourage our group to allow themselves a playful heart this week: Be childlike this week, look for animals in the clouds, look for stories in the night sky.
This theme fit nicely with Br. Bob’s presentation on his work on the Orisis-Rex mission. Hearing of Osiris-Rex was very gratifying for me since all of the ACME conferences have been following this mission from the beginning. Br. Bob explained the importance of having a pristine sample of asteroid Benu, free of contaminates meteorites that fall through Earth’s atmosphere contain.
He also shared some wonderfully human stories on how someone at the beginning of the mission tightened a crucial screw too tightly on the probe. When trying to open the sample container, they broke a screwdriver and were forced to wait to get the sample until a new tool could be built to open the container. Thankfully, it was an error that didn’t impact the sample. It reminded me that science is often a mix of amazing things with very common human moments that bring projects back to reality.
In addition to Br. Bob’s professional work, he offered a video from his YouTube channel that fit nicely with my theme of childlike wonderment. Br. Bob showed us a video he made about some important things to remember about Galileo through a stop motion video he created of putting together a Lego kit of Galileo’s lab. I would highly recommend checking out Br. Bob’s Channel.
After that, we toured the Richard F Caris Mirror Lab. Again, this was a delightful update on the process of the Giant Magellan Telescope that will be, for a time, the largest ground-based telescope in the world. Even though this is a trip we make every year, it’s always a little different in its content as the mirror lab approaches completion of the project. Sadly, the Covid-19 shutdown has slowed the process of building this mammoth of a telescope. Still, I eagerly await the first images from the new tool of wonderment!
My tour group at the lens lab
We then concluded with a trip down memory lane for Br. Guy who gave us a tour of his old stomping grounds at the University of Arizona. He shared delightful stories about the people who really began and defined the science of astronomy amid analog archives of images of Apollo Missions, early glob reconstructions of the Moon and foundational papers to the study of astronomy.
As always, we concluded with Mass and a night of star gazing. I brought my Dwarf II out because the group wanted to see how it worked. I asked what they wanted to see and, unsurprisingly, they wanted to see the Orion Nebula.
I started imaging, showed them how the phone app worked and then began to share stories about their journey through faith and their interest in astronomy. So good was the conversation for me that 45 minutes of imaging time passed on the Orion Nebula. Here is the image we got during that conversation. My hope is that it will be a reminder of what we talked about that evening for the days and years to come.