On Saturday, Nov. 10 at 6 p.m., the Breyo Observatory of Siena College was officially opened in chilly 35-degree temperatures. Despite the cold, Siena students and faculty, as well as members of the public, gathered to tour Siena’s newest edition with students from Siena’s Physics Department.
Before exploring the roof of Roger Bacon to view the observatory, spectators filled the Key Auditorium in Roger Bacon to hear a lecture from experienced astronomer and expert cosmologist, Father George Coyne, S.J. This lecture was titled “The Dance of the Fertile Universe: A Meeting of Science and Religious Belief”. Fr. George addressed the question: “Is the fertility of the universe by chance or necessity?” Father George introduced this topic as a scientific question with religious implications. Within his lecture he concluded that the universe is not fertile by chance, but because chance enters the process of star formation and other celestial events.
Father George identified himself as a priest in the Jesuit order, in which there is a constant debate on whether God created the universe or if the Big Bang created what we know as our universe today. Father George explained, “One doesn’t believe in the Big Bang, one either knows it or denies it,” altering the language normally used when discussing the topic. Rather than crediting God as the creator of the universe, Father George offered the point of view that interprets God as the universe’s loving father.
As someone that has studied the universe and worked in multiple observatories, Father George spoke about the importance of the telescope to humanity, as well as astronomers. He said, “Telescopes are extensions of our own eyes. It is our curiosity, it is me, but it’s bigger than me.” As spectators toured Siena College’s new facility, it became apparent that the curiosity that brought telescopes into existence is very much human, but the idea of studying the universe is bigger than those who choose to do it.
Father George then brought up the existence of what cosmologists call “stellar wombs” from which stars are born. These pockets of what seem like darkness surrounded by clusters of light contain the ingredients necessary to birth stars, dust and gas. Father George displayed the evidence that explains the universe’s fertility that will continue to exist long afterlife on Earth is brought to an end. For over 13 billion years, stars, galaxies, planets and other types of celestial matter have continued to take form without hesitation.
With the conversation of the universe’s grandeur, Father George began to mention his belief in extraterrestrial life. He stated that with there being over 100 billion known galaxies, there must be life beyond the existence that we are familiar with. Father George joked, “I’m not going to worry about bringing up the search for extraterrestrial intelligence because we have enough on our hands looking for intelligence in the world that we do know.” Putting all jokes aside, Father George encouraged his audience to receive his message objectively, and with an open mind.
Father George wrapped up the lecture by addressing that the more we learn about the universe, the more there is that we don’t know. As theology and science have an extensive history of butting heads, Father Coyne’s lecture addressed the possibility of the two studies coexisting. As Siena looks to inspire and educate the community with the addition of the Breyo Observatory, Father George looks to continue doing the same, in both the Catholic and scientific communities.