The Vatican, Black Holes, and the Big Bang

What happens if you fall into a Black Hole? What happened in the early Big Bang? What is the ultimate destiny of the cosmos? These and other questions will be at the center of discussions at a scientific workshop on “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities” which will be held from May 9-12 at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo. Among the 35 invited participants, are renowned scientists such as the 1999 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Gerald ‘t Hooft; 1988 Wolf Prize co-winner Roger Penrose; and cosmologists George Ellis, Renata Kallosh and Andrei Linde and Joe Silk.


 

One of the aims of this conference will be to encourage a fruitful interaction among participants from both theoretical and observational cosmology, and to create a suitable environment for the emergence of new ideas and research directions in contemporary cosmology. In fact, the recent detection of gravitational waves has opened up a new way of seeing the universe and has also stimulated new speculations about the true nature of the singularities of Space-Time (Black Holes are examples of Space-Time singularities). Topics that the conference intends to explore are the limits of modern cosmology and the scientific challenges of the near future.

The conference celebrates the scientific legacy of Mons. George Lemaître, fifty years after his death. Lemaître was professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven and from 1960 to 1966 (the year of his death) he served as president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. A dedicated priest, he belonged to the Priestly Fraternity of Friends of Jesus, founded by Cardinal Mercier Bishop of Malines, who ordained him as a priest and promoted a renewal of priestly spirituality. Lemaître was an outstanding cosmologist, nowadays considered one of the fathers of modern Big Bang theory. By the 1920s, astronomical observations of distant galaxies had revealed a mysterious recession motion whose origin was unknown; in 1927, Lemaître was the first to explain that this motion as the result of the expansion of the Universe, and not merely a peculiar motion of the observed objects. He obtained this result by solving the complicated equations of Einstein’s General Relativity Theory, at that time a very new idea which connects the mass-energy distribution of the Universe with the bending of the geometry of the Space-Time.

He became famous for his theory of the “primeval Atom”, known today as the Big Bang Theory. Through the cosmological solution he had worked out in 1927, he understood that, looking backwards in time, the Universe should have been originally in a state of high energy density, compressed into a point like an original atom from which everything started.

This Vatican Observatory workshop is a modern legacy of Lemaître’s scientific intuitions. The conference has also been organized with the support of INAF (Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica) and INFN (Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare).

More information about the workshop is available at:

http://www.vaticanobservatory.va/content/specolavaticana/en/workshop-lemaitre.html

Pope Francis’s Message to Vatican Observatory Conference:

 

 

This morning, before taking off for his Apostolic Pilgrimage to Fatima, May 12-13, Pope Francis greeted participants taking part in a conference organised by the Vatican Observatory entitled “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities. The May 9-12 conference is taking place at the Observatory at Castel Gandolfo, outside of Rome. Below is the Vatican-provided English translation of the Pope’s words to participants:

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Dear friends,

I extend a heartfelt welcome to you all, and I thank Brother Guy Consolmagno for his kind words.

The issues you have been addressing during these days at Castel Gandolfo are of particular interest to the Church, because they have to do with questions that concern us deeply, such as the beginning of the universe and its evolution, and the profound structure of space and time, to name but a few.  It is clear that these questions have a particular relevance for science, philosophy, theology and for the spiritual life.  They represent an arena in which these different disciplines meet and sometimes clash.

As both a Catholic priest and a cosmologist, Mgr Georges Lemaître knew well the creative tension between faith and science, and always defended the clear methodological distinction between the fields of science and theology.   While integrating them in his own life, he viewed them as distinct areas of competence.  That distinction, already present in Saint Thomas Aquinas, avoids a short-circuiting that is as harmful to science as it is to faith.

Before the immensity of space-time, we humans can experience awe and a sense of our own insignificance, as the Psalmist reminds us:  “What is man that you should keep him in mind, the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:5).  As Albert Einstein loved to say: “One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility”.  The existence and intelligibility of the universe are not a result of chaos or mere chance, but of God’s Wisdom, present “at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old”. (Prov 8:22).

I am deeply appreciative of your work, and I encourage you to persevere in your search for truth.  For we ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas, but welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility.  As we journey towards the frontiers of human knowledge, it is indeed possible to have an authentic experience of the Lord, one which is capable of filling our hearts.

[Vatican-provided text]

 

 

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