Jennifer Wiseman is an astronomer who studies star forming regions of our galaxy using optical, radio, and infrared telescopes. Her career has involved oversight of national astronomical facilities as well as public science policy and discourse. In 1987 she co-discovered the periodic comet 114P/Wiseman-Skiff as an undergraduate researcher at MIT. She has a bachelorâ€™s degree in physics from MIT, and a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University. In Part 1 of her interview with ESN, she shared some of the latest astronomical findings. In Part 2 she shares how science shapes her personal life of faith.
ESN: Are there areas of your research that move you to worship?
JW: I am fascinated by galaxies. The Hubble space telescope produced a marvelous image called the ultra deep field, which is the result of staring out into space for several days and collecting light so that it could image the faintest objects, thereby seeing a whole collection of galaxies. When you look at this image and you realize itâ€™s only a tiny fraction of one area of the sky, and then extrapolate in your mind around the whole sky, you get a visceral sense of how enormous the universe is. And when you imagine that each galaxy, each speck of light contains potentially hundreds of billions of stars, and there are potentially planetary systems around most of those stars, it is awesome to contemplate. I find both the magnitude of the universe I sense by looking at images of these galaxies, and also the beauty of these galaxies, to be one of the most spirit-gripping parts of astronomy that Iâ€™ve ever seen.
So then for me, if I think about these things through the lens of faith, because I am someone who believes God is responsible for the universe and the natural processes we study in science, I have to realize God has been upholding and watching over and supporting an evolving universe over billions of years, long before life and human life existed on this planet. What does that mean? One way people react to this is by feeling a great sense of insignificance, since we occupy such a small fraction of time and space. My reaction is not that, but a sense of almost fearful gratefulness that this whole universe has been allowed to mature over eons of time to the point where planets, at least one, can support abundant life, and that I get to be a part of that for just a little while. So Iâ€™m grateful. And it also makes me a little fearful: am I using my time well? [Read more…] about Interview with Jennifer Wiseman, Part 2