Saturday, April 23, 2016

Hubble Bubble


7,100 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia, a star is blowing bubbles. The Hubble Space Telescope recently captured a picture of this giant gas discharge. When I consider the heavens, the work of God's fingers, the moon and the stars that He has set in their appropriate places, I must ask, "Why does God consider humans to be His crowning creation?" "How is it that we are the creatures that are made in His image?" "Why would He sacrifice so much for so tiny a portion of His creation?" "Why has He exalted earth and its tiny human population to such a height that we are considered just a little lower than the Godhead?"

A picture such as this generates a sense of awe and mystery. As people consider the immensity of the universe, they typically have one of two reactions: they are either drawn to admire and praise a Creator who could fashion such beauty, or they consider that the universe is so big and we are so small that humans could not possibly be important. Pause for a moment and ask yourself, “How do I feel when I see this Hubble bubble picture?” “How do I feel toward God?”

  1

Psalm 8 (NLT)
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
    Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants
    to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
    and all who oppose you.
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
    putting all things under their authority—
the flocks and the herds
    and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
    and everything that swims the ocean currents.
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!


1. Image source: Science News; "Hubble telescope snaps stunning picture for its 26th birthday"; 2016-04-22;  https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/science-ticker/hubble-telescope-snaps-stunning-pic-its-26th-birthday?tgt=nr

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Akatsuki Update



On April 1, JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, gave a brief update on the status of their Akatsuki spacecraft now in orbit around Venus. You might recall that this is the exploration vehicle that missed its exit on the way to Venetian orbit and, instead, ended up in orbit around the sun.[1] This orbit took it as close as 90 million kilometers from the sun,[2] which may not sound all that close, but it was close enough to raise concerns that the craft’s mechanics might fail due to excessive heat. Fortunately, after its close encounter with our giant ball of fire, the spacecraft was found to be functioning well.

Approximately five years post launch, trajectory engineers were able to nudge Akatsuki into a suitable orbit around Venus. The orbit is much larger than originally intended: one orbit every 9 days instead of one orbit every 30 hours.[3] However, the onboard cameras have already sent back some impressive images of cloud formations in the upper atmosphere.[4] We can expect much more data and many more updates in the months ahead.




[1] Thirst, “Yesterday I Missed My Exit on My Way to Sears,” December 10, 2015; http://hungerandthirst4.blogspot.ca/2015/12/yesterday-i-missed-my-exit-on-my-way-to.html
[2] News on Japan, “Akatsuki probe survives close encounter with sun
[3] The Planetary Society, “Akatsuki's new orbit, first images, and science plans”
[4] JAXA, “Topics List,” April 1, 2016, http://global.jaxa.jp/projects/sat/planet_c/topics.html#topics7299

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Hibernacula




The condo complex where we live has a small pond on the grounds. Aerated by a fountain, the pond is full of life and sound from April to October. Ducks raise their young in the pond; frogs are heard "croaking" away in the early morning and late afternoon; and insects mark the surface with rings as they walk across on surface tension or swim from bottom to top. This pond is a controlled environment such that every fall it is drained and every spring it is filled. Most creatures leave the area for the winter; some must find ways to survive in the frozen mud or leaf and grass litter of the pond.

The frogs are an interesting case in point. There are many types of frogs in the world and I will not claim to know what type of frogs are living in the pond in Hawkwood, Calgary, Alberta. In fact, these frogs are so elusive that they are mostly heard and not seen. If you will allow me to speak in generalities, there are some interesting things we can learn about the hibernation techniques of frogs. NASA and other space agencies have a keen interest in studying the biology of frogs and asking questions about applications to humans and long space flights.[1]

Recent studies have shown that frogs use a number of techniques to survive winter temperatures. One method is to simply rest at the bottom of a deep pond or lake which does not freeze to the bottom. There, at a constant temperature of 4 degrees Celsius, the frog absorbs oxygen through its skin and slows its metabolic rate and heartbeat to a fraction of normal. Of course, this technique will not work if the pond is dry throughout winter. Some frogs migrate from one place to another to find a suitable wintering pond.

For the rest of the, shall we say, less fortunate frogs who cannot use the above methods, there is a more extreme procedure. These frogs must make a hibernaculum (plural hibernacula): a place to hide and hibernate for the winter and prepare to freeze their internal organs. These frogs dig down in the litter of the dry pond or burrow tunnels into the mud. Those in burrows create a space with the mud and secretions from their bodies to make a homely little tunnel that will meet their needs. Next, their circulatory system pulls many of the ribose sugars from their tissues and creates an antifreeze that is circulated in the outer extremities of the body. This antifreeze protects those extremities from freezing and signals the heart and other internal organs to slow down and prepare to be frozen solid. Yes, frozen solid! The heart, kidneys, liver and other internal processes will slow and freeze to the point that the heart rate may be as low as one beat per two weeks (beating only as temperatures rise enough to allow some movement of the heart muscle).[2] 

Then, as the sun begins to warm the mud, the grass, and the debris, a miracle of nature occurs. Those frozen organs and antifreeze filled extremities come back to life. Blood flows at normal rates, hearts pump, kidneys function, and livers live! Spring, that time of birth and rebirth, is witness to a resurrection of frogs. No wonder they come out of the mud singing “ribbety ribbet.” Life, for frogs who have survived minus 20 degree temperatures, is wonderful indeed. Next it is time for the frogs to find a mate, fertilize or lay eggs, and enjoy the new life they have been given before the whole process repeats once again. (Cue the “Circle of Life” music – or maybe the “Frozen” music – “the cold never bothered me anyway.”) One cannot help but be amazed by these wonderful little frog lives. 

"O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures." Psalm 104:24 (NLT)   
“Just ask the animals, and they will teach you. Ask the birds of the sky, and they will tell you. Speak to the earth, and it will instruct you. Let the fish in the sea speak to you." Job 12:7, 8 (NLT)

Works Cited:
Emmer, Rick. How do frogs survive winter? Why don't they freeze to death? 1997. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-do-frogs-survive-wint/ (accessed 2016-04-17).
Telegraph. "The Telegraph." Hibernating frog could help astronauts conquer Mars. 04 18, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/10936941/Hibernating-frog-could-help-astronauts-conquer-Mars.html (accessed 04 17, 2016).




[1] (Telegraph 2016)
[2] (Emmer 1997)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Fork in the Road



"Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy." Deuteronomy 5:33 (NLT)
"There's a fork in the road but you never take it."[1]

It may depend upon our perspective or it may depend upon our character, but some would look at life and see it as a number of forks in the road, and choices we must make, as we navigate the one lifetime we have been given. Robert Frost is known for writing,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.[2]

The complete stanza says,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.[3]

Frost was often asked about the “sigh” in this poem and he was always enigmatic about it. What was the difference made? Was the difference a good difference or a bad difference? Perhaps it was an unknown difference.

A fork in the road, on the path of life, offers opportunities, choices, responsibilities, and temptations. In the movie,  A Wonderful Life, George Bailey has many opportunities and forks in his road. His choice at each one is a choice made out of loyalty. He chooses to serve the banking business his father started; he chooses to serve his brother; he chooses to serve the poor; he chooses to serve his town; and just when it looks like all of his choices will lead to suicide or prison, we find that he has chosen correctly and that he has also served his family.

Jayber Crow, the fictional barber in Wendell Berry’s book by the same name, has this to say about his path.

Now I have had most of the life I am going to have, and I can see what it has been. I can remember those early years when it seemed to me I was cut completely adrift, and times when, looking back at the earlier times, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error. But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led. I will leave you to judge the truth of that for yourself . . . there is no proof.[4]
There is no proof, and yet, there is always faith. There is no proof, and yet, there is always trust. You will have to judge the truth of that for yourself.

Works Cited:


Berry, Wendell. Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2000.

Cuddy, Jim. Skyscraper Soul, "Watch Yourself Go Down," 2011 

Frost, Robert. The Road Not Taken. 2015. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173536 (accessed 04 11, 2016).



[1] Jim Cuddy; "Watch Yourself Go Down"; Skyscraper Soul, 2011.
[2] (Frost 2015)
[3] (Frost 2015)
[4] (Berry 2000)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Garments of God


I read the Gospel of John 19:23-25 recently. It is about the crucifixion of Jesus and various things associated with his death. It speaks of the Roman soldiers dividing his clothes among themselves and then it says, “now the tunic (khiton, the garment worn next to the skin) was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be’; this was to fulfill the Scripture: ‘They divided my outer garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots.’”

This got me thinking, “Who ended up with this tunic?” “Did one of the soldiers wear it?” Imagine wearing the underwear of the Christ! We know from other passages of the Bible that Jesus’ outer garments could be touched and they would mediate healing. In Luke 8:43-48 we read of a woman who suffered from continual bleeding for 12 years who touched Jesus’ cloak while he walked through the streets. She was instantly healed of her disorder. What of this tunic that was worn close to his skin? Did it have residual energy from Jesus? Was the soldier that wore it healed of anything? Or instead, was he cursed by wearing something so holy without appropriate reverence? I guess we will never know. Or maybe it is one of those questions we will want to ask Jesus when we get to heaven.

I do think that in these things there is a lesson for us to learn. Reverence for God and for the things of God is an important concept. What healings and blessings might we be missing because of an inappropriate reverence for the garments of God; for his creation, for his word as revealed in the Bible? Let those who have ears, hear these things. Let those who have clear minds, think upon these things. Selah!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Future of Space Exploration

Jupiter and Europa

The 15th to 18th centuries were a time of unprecedented exploration of our world. Europeans, with a healthy sense of curiosity, and driven by a desire to conquer new worlds, were the primary instigators. Today, we live in a similar time of exploration as countries and private corporations turn their eyes to our solar system. Led by many organizations from around the world, there is a greater sense of cooperation in this age of discovery. The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), Russian Federal Space Agency (RFSA), Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are all making a mark in space exploration.

NASA is presently developing an Asteroid Redirect Mission in which they will identify, capture, and redirect a near-Earth asteroid. The goal is to capture an asteroid and place it in orbit around the moon so that scientists might study it for generations to come.[1] NASA also plans to send a mission to Europa, one of the large moons orbiting Jupiter. It takes 7 to 10 years to reach the Jovian system and the plan is to launch in the early 2020s, so don’t expect results immediately, but Europa is considered one of the more likely locations for simple extra-terrestrial life because of its large frozen ocean.[2]
ESA too has plans for a Jovian mission. Their spacecraft will visit three of Jupiter’s moons: Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. The rationale for this trip is that all three moons likely contain water and might support life.[3] ESA has also expressed interest in establishing a lunar base on our own moon that would serve as a research base, much like the International Space Station. It would make a great jumping off point for even greater space exploration that might include missions to other star systems.[4]
In 2013, the Chinese National Space Agency was the first agency to soft land a spacecraft on the moon since the Russians last did in 1976 (Luna 24). CNSA presently has a lunar rover called Chang'e 3 on the moon’s service and they have stated that they plan many more lunar missions including some sample return missions.[5]
JAXA, in collaboration with ESA, will soon launch a Mercury orbiter that will study the magnetosphere of that planet.[6] Because of its proximity to the sun, and the difficulty of shielding instrumentation from extreme radiation, little is known about this planet; and the JAXA mission will be highly significant.
All of these missions will be of great interest as we watch them unfold over the next decades. I plan to watch each with great expectation, starting with the ExoMars show that has already begun.

After the Fight

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
“What is your name?” the man asked.
He replied, “Jacob.”
“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” Genesis 32:24-28 (NLV)
This passage from the book of Genesis tells of a time when Jacob physically wrestled with a man (or perhaps an angel) who represented Jacob’s wrestling with God. After this incident, Jacob was a changed man. He no longer looked for ways to trick God and man. It was also at this time that his name was changed to Israel. The name Jacob means “trickster” while the name Israel means “God fights;” and this moment represented a change in the heart of Jacob. No longer would he be a trickster. From then on he would recognize that God was the one fighting for him.

Many of us have wrestled with God in a figurative sense. We question God’s goodness, we wonder about his plans for us, we consider whether his way truly is the best way to live, and we deliberate on whether or not his ways can truly satisfy. In fact, it can be said that, each time we sin we are wrestling control out of God’s hands. We are saying, in effect, that God’s ways will not satisfy and we look for a substitute for the provision that comes from God. Think of the person who steals money or supplies from work rather than trust that God can supply their physical needs. Think of the person who seeks a sexual relationship outside of their marriage rather than trusting that God can make their marriage whole and holy. These may be extreme examples, but aren’t there numerous ways that we daily say, “It’s okay God, I can solve this one. I don’t need you to supply this need.”?

Jars of Clay, a band from Nashville, wrote the song “After the Fight” as a way of retelling the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel. Genesis 32:31 tells us that, after Jacob’s wrestle with the unknown person, he limped because of an injury to his hip. The Jars of Clay song makes reference to this injury, as well as a persistent physical ailment in the life of Paul the Apostle, when they say, “Will walking be a reminder of punches I let by, another thorn in my side?”

I invite you to meditate on both the words of Genesis and the words of this song. Consider the ways in which you may be fighting against God.

After the Fight
Songwriters: Daniel Paul Haseltine, Charles Daniel Lowell, Stephen Daniel Mason, Matthew Thomas Odmark
Published by © A Side Music LLC

You can blame it on my pride or the spell that I'm under
I get to fight with the lightning, talk back to the thunder
I want more wind in this tornado cause it isn't moving fast enough yet
Gonna burn this temple to the ground once I have the fuses set

But after the fight is over will I talk so tough
Will I run for cover after the gloves come off
Yeah when the black eye lingers will I stand my ground
Return my fists to fingers after the final round

I have a hand full of feathers and blood stains on my skin
Is there an angel left to wrestle, white horses they haven't broken in
I get up from the canvas swinging like I think I might just win
And we go around and round and round and round again

After the fight is over will I talk so tough
Will I run for cover after the gloves come off
Yeah when the black eye lingers will I stand my ground
Return my fists to fingers after the final round

Will walking be a reminder of punches I let by
Will walking be a reminder of punches I let by
I let by
Another thorn in my side
I let by

After the fight is over will I talk so tough
Will I run for cover
After the fight is over will I talk so tough
Will I run for cover after the gloves come off
Yeah when the black eye lingers will I stand my ground
Return my fists to fingers after the final round

Will I get by
I let by