Any international trip involves overcoming a universal problem: Jet lag. Having traveled from the United States to Rome on a few occasions, I find the best approach to overcoming jet lag is to stay busy until evening on the day you arrive. After arriving at Fiumicino airport, I jump on the train, check into my hotel, get back on the train or bus, visit St. Peter’s Basilica, and then just walk for the rest of the day, camera in hand, doing my best impression of an over-zealous American tourist in Vatican Square. When night comes, I am exhausted, but always ready to face the new day in the morning. These first moments of arrival are an essential part of a successful trip to Rome, but often are not the most memorable. The memorable moments come with time, exploration, and surprises that didn’t make the initial itinerary.
I think many of us, myself included, have adapted this “let’s get busy right away” attitude when it comes to our recent Solar System “Road Trips” from the ESA’s Rosetta Mission, NASA’s New Horizon’s Pluto flyby, and now the arrival of Juno at Jupiter. Once word came that Juno was safely orbiting Jupiter, my heart jumped into over-zealous “Jupiter tourist” mode wondering, “When do we see the pictures on Facebook?!?” These moments remind me that scientific road trips are far more complicated than going online and finding the best rate on a flight to Rome. Rosetta was a monumental success of putting a lander on a comet. However, the lander bounced twice before getting wedged in a rocky area that didn’t allow the sun to properly charge the lander’s batteries, limiting the research of the surface to the existing battery life of the lander and the orbiting Rosetta prob. Despite these mishaps, time has revealed a great deal to us about the inner workings of this amazing comet. Thank goodness the initial mishaps did not lead to the presumption the mission was a failure. It is a good reminder that the best discoveries often come with time and patience.
That being said, there are the occasional trips when cameras must be ready immediately and a good game plan in place for a visit that only allows a few moments of enjoyment. The New Horizon’s mission reminded me of a visit to Vatican Square during a Papal Audience. I find it amusing how many will create game plans to get as close to the “Pope-mobile” driving path as possible to get a close glimpse of the Holy Father with the hopes of getting one good photo of the pontiff for the scrap book. With good preparation, the results can be stunning!
With New Horizon’s, there was a lot more taken than the iconic image of “Pluto’s Heart.” Years of planning, preparing, and “packing” all the scientific equipment that was reasonable for our one “Vatican Square” moment with Pluto has yielding amazing discoveries and renewed the interest of many in this fascinating Dwarf Planet. In light of these discoveries, it shows that even a brief trip, when planned properly, can reveal its most impressive moments over time as the mountain of data collected in the flyby is gone over with patience, similar to a satisfied tourist reliving the moments of their favorite trip by paging through a well organized scrapbook.
Moving on to Jupiter, we can begin to wonder two things: 1) When will we see images, and, 2) What will we learn about Jupiter that we didn’t already know? To answer the first question, NASA announced on July 7th that the scientific instruments are being turned on and we should receive information on the initial findings of Jupiter about September 1st. To use the analogy of my trips to Rome, Juno is at the hotel and is unpacking its luggage… a lot of luggage!
To answer the second question, what will we learn about Jupiter that we didn’t already know, the honest answer is, time will tell! Some may think a trip back to Jupiter to be a waste of time and money simply because we have already been there. To counter this objection, I can go back to my Rome trip analogy. Why is it that every time I go to Rome my first stop is St. Peter’s Basilica? The reason is that every time I go I learn something new about this magnificent structure. A trip to St. Peter’s in the early morning before the tourists arrive gives an experience of the Basilica at prayer with multiple celebrations of the Eucharist at the side altars, happening simultaneously in different languages, and expressed through different Rites. I always find this experience of St. Peter’s Basilica as a profound experience of the universality of the Church through the celebration of the Eucharist. Come in the afternoon and the Basilica has the odd mix of the noise of tourists and the celebration of the afternoon Mass at the altar under the stunning depiction of the Chair of St. Peter and the iconic stained glass window of the Holy Spirit. It is the same Basilica and the same Eucharist, but the time and context present a completely different experience at the resting place of St. Peter.
The reason we should go back to Jupiter is that a new trip with new instrumentation promises a new perspective of this Red Giant even though we can’t be 100% sure what we will learn heading into this trip. The nature of scientific exploration is to examine something over and over again, never being satisfied with one way of knowing a thing. Therefore, to go back to Jupiter feeds the scientific heart that is wired to keep going back to the same object to learn new things. Only time and patience will tell what mysteries Jupiter will reveal this time around similar to how my trips to St. Peter’s Basilica always provide new insight into the hollowed walls of this massive structure.
In many ways, this heart to return to what we know is very consistent with Ignatian Spirituality and St. Ignatius’ call to repetition. St. Ignatius was very clear that when we pray with a passage from Scripture that bears much fruit, it is good to go back and pray with that passage again to see if there is different kinds of spiritual fruit the passage offers a second, third, or fourth time around. Further, if a passage bears no fruit, we go back to the passage time and time again to allow the Lord to open the passage up to us in a new way so that, someday, good spiritual fruit can come from the passage. Similar to exploring objects in our Solar System, the deepest insights don’t always come with the first “pass” of a passage from Scripture. Rather, it is through time and patience that we deepen our understanding of Scripture as we constantly return to what we know in the hopes of gaining new knowledge.
Yes, the annoying American tourist in me wants to have new images and data on Jupiter now! However, science and faith teach us that scientific knowledge and spiritual insight take three things: patience, patience, and more patience. As we eagerly await the findings of the Juno Mission, let’s take this time of waiting as a lesson for us both scientifically and spiritually that the fruit of patience is growth in true knowledge. And may that patience draw us into a closer, more meaningful relationship with God, who brought all of these wondrous things into existence!