The BBC is hosting a stargazing programme asking amateur astronomers to find galaxies in far outer space. An engineer living in England, Zbigniew ‘Zbish’ Chetnik, has an observatory in his garden at home, and was the first person to spot a galaxy 10 billion light years away. Our universe is 13 billion years old, so the galaxy is quite close to the beginning of the universe, and one of the oldest galaxies we have ever seen.
The galaxy has been named “9Spitch” after Mr. Chetnik. When the BBC television producer asked him for his nickname, he misunderstood what he said, thinking it was “Spitch” rather than “Zbish.” Mr. Chetnik thinks this is fortuitous. “It’s lucky in a way,” he said. “It’s much more snappier than Zbish.”
It’s also luckier too, that Mr. Chetnik found the galaxy in the 21st century. When Galileo published the results of what he had seen through his telescope in the 17th century, he was threatened by Rome who with torture if he did not recant. God, the Roman Catholic authorities argued, created Earth at the centre of His universe. Galileo, who disagreed but nonetheless recanted under threat of being stretched on the rack, was condemned for heresy and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.
These days there are still many who believe that religious authorities can legitimately over-ride the findings of science. But in the Western world, religious institutions no longer have the secular power to punish and imprison those who disagree with them.
In our globalized world, in which many religions preach different doctrines, it is something for which we can be grateful – whatever side of the arguments we may find ourselves.