Thursday, November 26, 2009

Vatican Unites with Science to Search for Life Beyond Earth

The Vatican has admitted mistakes to science in the past. The most well-known is what it did to Galileo and other men of science who were marked as heretics in the past for going against the teachings of the Church and putting forward ideas that were against a Godly plan. In 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for his scientific studies; 1633, the Church forced Galileo to recant his view that the Earth moved around the Sun. Well, we all know now that Galileo was right and that the Church which did not really use science, was wrong.

Well, the Church took several hundred years, but it's finally made an apology and set things right with science. Now, the Vatican has its own scientists and researchers to support the new findings in science, particularly in the space sciences, that could lead to proof that there is life somewhere else in space outside the Earth. It's a fact that planets outside the solar system are now routinely discovered and some of them could possibly harbor life.

The Vatican had hosted a five-day conference in 2009 attended by 30 scientists, some non-Catholics, to talk about astrobiology, the science of establishing the origins and possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. According to Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory., "the questions of life's origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration."

Astronomy professor Chris Impey of the University of Arizona says, "both science and religion posit life as a special outcome of a vast and mostly inhospitable universe," he told a news conference Tuesday." He also says "there is a rich middle ground for dialogue between the practitioners of astrobiology and those who seek to understand the meaning of our existence in a biological universe."

In 2008, Rev. Funes said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that "believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God." He added that "just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God's creative freedom." He maintains that if indeed life elsewhere in the universe is eventually discovered, it would still be regarded as part of God's creation. Funes also believes that the Big Bang (left) is a reasonable explanation as to how God created the universe.

In 2005, the Vatican Observatory (top, left) also hosted a similar conference on the implications of extraterrestrial life.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

140-Million-Year-Old Spider Web Found

The oldest known spider web (to date) has been found. It's 140 million years old and it's been preserved in amber or fossilized tree sap. The amber had preserved it as it was all that time including the droplets that resemble those found in modern day webs of orb-web garden spiders (see microscopy images above). According to lead researcher Martin Brasier of the University of Oxford, the find shows the earliest webs that are incorporated in the fossil record.

The strands of fossilized spider webs were reconstructed using computer-aided technology called confocal microscopy. The findings suggest that the spiders that lived those millions of years ago also fed on insects that are the ancestors of modern day species. Other things preserved in the amber along with the webs are insect droppings, plant matter, and even microbes.

FLASH: Largest web-spinning spider discovered.

This orb-web golden spider (see video that follows) is the largest web-spinning spider ever discovered. It's as broad as an optical disc. Interestingly, the discovery is based on dead spider remains in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The new species of orb-weaver spider, Nephila komaci is found to be larger than other Nephila species. For trivia's sake, you might be interested to know the largest spider in the world non-web spinning) is the Goliath Bird Eater (Theraphosa blondi).

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