Psalm 19:1-3 declares: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard."
Mark Tronson, chairman of Well-Being Australia, thinks that the Lord encourages more research in order to learn more about His 'handy work' by studying 'the firmament', to objectively seek the truth using both scientific observations faith.
Early relationships of the Church with astronomy and astrology
The Middle Ages (Medieval period, AD 1000 to mid-1600s) in Europe, when the Church was virtually the only educational institution, was a period when knowledge was slowly being built up upon the foundation work of the 'natural philosophers' of pre-Christian Greek and Roman times; eventually enabling the 'enlightenment' of the 17th century to blossom. It is now acknowledged, these were not 'Dark Ages'.
As a historian, Mark Tronson is interested in the Medieval dichotomy of ideas about 'astrology'. St Augustine ( b. AD 354) forbade astrology, but rulers such as the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250), an enthusiastic patron of the sciences, nevertheless consulted astrologers about the most propitious time to conceive a son.
Although the theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) disapproved of the use of astrology for the purpose of predictions of the future, he condoned studies of the heavenly bodies in order to show whether or not their 'natural forces' had any influence on events on Earth. This overall philosophy was an impetus for mathematicians and scientists to develop improved methodology for observations,. leading to improved measuring equipment and more accurate calculation techniques; it was the basis of today's legitimate scientific study of 'astronomy.'
Eventually Copernicus showed that the calculation adjustments called 'epicycles' were totally unnecessary in describing the orbits of planets around the sun (not the Earth). Later, the Church disapproved of the work of Galileo (1564-1642), who expanded Copernicus' ideas and published the results in everyday language. Galileo was not absolved until 1992. (James Hannam. 2009. "God's Philosophers"Icon Books,Chapters 8, 20).
Australian history of astronomy
Being in the southern hemisphere, Australia has been an important pivot in astronomical research. In fact, the English would not have colonised Australia without an astronomical reason for Captain James Cook's voyage – the transit of Venus, visible from Tahiti, in 1769. This was the second of a 'pair' of transits, had never before been measured from the southern hemisphere, and was important in accurate calculations of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. It was only after the success of that mission that Cook opened his 'secret orders' which eventuated in the settlement of New South Wales. (www.dailytimes.com.pk)
Our own fascination with our southern constellations is reflected proudly in the Southern Cross on our flag (as well as the flag of New Zealand). And we are now, belatedly, documenting some of the ancient Aboriginal observations and stories that about the southern constellations. (www.atnf.csiro.au)
Two (of many) notable historical references to astronomy are: the award-winning work done by John Tebbutt (1834-1916) at his own observatory in Windsor, NSW; and the role of the radio telescope at Parkes, western NSW, in monitoring the first Moon landing in 1969 as portrayed in the film "The Dish" (which is partly fiction, but based on the reality). Mark Tronson was reminded of this film when Neil Armstrong, first human on the Moon, gave a rare interview in Australia recently. (www.hawkesburyhistory.org.au, outreach.atnf.csiro.au, www.smh.com.au)
Current research facilities in Australia highly regarded
The Australian astronomical research community now has 16 observatories and is proud of 2011 Nobel Prizewinner, Professor Brian Schmidt, who came here from Harvard because of our excellent facilities. He is now helping to build a new telescope called 'sky mapper', and is a volunteer with the federally-funded 'Scientist in Schools' program.
Australian research is world-class indeed. Only last week, Mark Tronson noted reports that researchers have worked out how nano-diamonds form in meteorites; and these tiny particles may be, in future, used to deliver medications where they are needed, because (being carbon) they are completely compatible with the living body.
And the announcement was finally made that the 'Square Kilometre Array' telescope, that will be able to observe the skies in more detail than ever before, will be shared with Australia, South Africa and New Zealand – with each country building and operating components that are able to make complementary but different types of observations. (www.smh.com.au)
On June 6th there is a Transit of Venus across the Sun
Mark Tronson would like to conclude with a reminder that the last Transit of Venus for more than 100 years will occur on June 6th (Australian time), and if you want to view it to take the precautions mentioned in the websites below and ONLY TO USE APPROVED FILTERS on any glasses or telescopes you are using – otherwise you can do permanent damage to your eyes. Note that #14 welding glasses are approved. (nvonews.com)
Or, alternatively, you can seek out an observatory if there is one close to where you live – for example, if you are in Sydney, the University of Western Sydney at Penrith. (www.streetcorner.com.au )