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May's night skies


The warmer nights of May are prime conditions for galaxy hunting. The winter Milky Way is lost in the glare of the Sun. On these evenings we have an unobstructed view of what lies beyond our own galaxy as the night skies present us with a vista outside the Milky Way. At the center of this view, we find the constellation Virgo, a large constellation, second in size to Hydra.

The draw to Virgo for astronomers of all stripes is the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, which spills across its northern border into the constellation Coma Berenices. A neighbor to our own Local Group of galaxies, the Virgo Cluster is the richest gathering of galaxies in the Local Supercluster - a large group of associated small galaxy clusters that include the Local Group and therefore our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Global climate change already affecting grain yields


The Midwestern corn and wheat belt in the United States, Canada and northern Mexico have experienced relatively small temperature trends, in contrast to other grain producing areas in the world. So complacency or skepticism about global warming has set in. A new study suggests that would be a mistake. Global warming is likely already taking a toll on world wheat and corn production, according to a study led by Stanford University researchers.

"It appears as if farmers in North America got a pass on the first round of global warming," said David Lobell, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford University. "That was surprising, given how fast we see weather has been changing in agricultural areas around the world as a whole."

'Wonderful alchemy' -- In praise of walking (part 1)


In a day when anyone can change from jogging shoes, drive to the nearest airport, there to be whisked by jumbo jet in a few hours to almost any corner of the Earth, I want to sing the praises of walking.

With a caution first to watch out for traffic, I urge you to now and then cover a mile or two by legwork alone. Let us quietly celebrate here the charms of the nearest footpath, the smug satisfaction of owning a pair of well-scuffed hiking boots, the seductions of daily putting a leash on the dog and stepping out, the never-ending allure of the city’s gleaming sidewalks.

Vatican issues major report on science of climate change


On May 5, a working group of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, one of the oldest scientific institutes in the world, issued a sobering report on the impacts for humankind as a result of the global retreat of mountain glaciers as a result of human activity leading to climate change.

The report begins: "We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses. We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home. By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life."

A visit to a green parish


Let me tell you about my surprising visit to St. Francis of the Earth Catholic Church last Sunday while I was traveling.

Upon arriving, I notice that the parking lot is only half full of cars, but the bike racks, on the other hand, are crowded with colorful bikes of all sizes. People are streaming in on foot too, talking and laughing with their neighbors who made the jaunt from home with them.

As I enter the church, I am bathed in natural soft light from the sky lights and the many windows. What additional illumination is needed comes from LED lights.

The church furnishings are made from natural products and no carpets can be seen anywhere. Plants and seasonal flowers grown by parishioners adorn the sanctuary.

To prepare for the opening hymn, I reach for a hymnal, only to find none in sight. When I look around puzzled, a parishioner leans over and explains that they are as paper-free as possible and that the music will be projected on a big screen at the front of church. She says they do have a few booklets with the order of the Mass for those who need one and not to expect a bulletin, because everyone reads it online.

Expanding your spirit and life with meditation


Part I: The living gifts of meditation

This is part one of a three-part series: 1) The benefits of meditation 2) Instruction and tips in how to meditate and 3) Meditation in daily life.

I’m starting with the benefits because motivation is what gets us started on this path in the first place and keeps us on it. These words of Antoine de Saint Exupery express it well: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” So we are beginning with the goal in mind.

I have been teaching meditation classes called Peace Within: Learning to Meditate for over 12 years and a steady stream of people come primarily to learn how to relieve stress. The first thing I tell them is what their expectations are way too low.

Most people don’t realize that the regular practice of meditation can positively impact every aspect of their lives, and has the potential to transform their lives quite radically. If you are seasoned in meditation or some type of centering or contemplative prayer, you know this to be true, and I invite your testimonials.

Environmental protection's power to influence politics


"There is no conservative way to breathe air or liberal way to drink water," writes Steven Cohen on the Huffington Post Green page, in an article titled "The Political Power of Environmental Protection." "The health, safety and security of our families are at the heart of America's bedrock support for a clean environment. The environment is not an ideological issue."

Cohen is surprised by the right wing's focus on environmental protection as an example of government overregulation. Most people favor environmental protection, he points out. "Just as police forces can sometimes use excess force, some environmental regulators can get carried away. But just as people tend to support their local cops, they also support environmental regulators. Protecting the environment is not an example of government run amok."

Cohen is executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute.

NCR's Eco Catholic Blog

Cave of forgotten dreams: the work of homo spiritualis


My wife wanted to see “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” a documentary which had just opened here. We caught the matinee yesterday. It was a completely spellbinding experience.

German film director Werner Herzog is a master at conjuring unforgettable visions, from the ship dragged over the jungle mountain in his "Fitzcarraldo" to the Antarctic landscape in "Encounters at the End of the World."

In this latest film, he brings us the earliest known visions of humankind: the Chauvet cave art of the Ardeche River region in southern France, created more than 30,000 years ago. By comparison, the famous cave art of Lascaux is roughly half as old. Since Chauvet’s discovery in 1994, access has been extremely restricted due to concerns that overexposure, even to human breath, could damage the priceless drawings. Only a small number of researchers have ever seen the art in person.

The tracker: the books of Tom Brown, Jr.


I’m guessing that many of you have never heard of Tom Brown, Jr. He’s not a well-known name in Catholic or ecology circles. He’s not a scholar, theologian, or environmentalist per se. His claim to fame is that he knows the ways of nature at a level not even fathomed by most people.

Tom has written 16 books on his personal experiences of tracking and surviving in nature, and operates the Tom Brown Jr. Tracker School in New Jersey.

I happened upon Tom’s first book, The Tracker, some 25 years ago and was immediately hooked. His adventures were new and exciting to me and resonated with some deep part of my soul. In the course of the next few years, I read all of his books, except the field guides to survival, and they made a deep impact on me and I remember them still.

'The Journey of the Universe,' by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker


This film project and companion book are a collaboration of evolutionary philosopher Brian Swimme and historian of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker. They weave a tapestry that draws together scientific discoveries in astronomy, geology, and biology with insights concerning the nature of the universe.

The book will be available soon. The film will be screened at various locations in the United States and Canada throughout the summer. For more information about the project and film showings, see the Journey of the Universe Web site.


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