Religion, Science, under the Stars

In late-mid April, a Vatican astronomer will visit Duluth. (I used to refer to him as “the Vatican Astronomer,” but I have learned that there are a dozen Vatican astronomers, that is, astronomers employed by the Vatican at the Vatican Observatory.)

The traditional home of the Vatican Observatory has been in Italy, of course, but increasing population and technology have led to light pollution that make the telescopes near Rome less useful than they might be. As a result, now 90 years old, they aren’t used for research in the way that they used to be.

Instead, the Vatican operates a telescope in Arizona. According to its website, “The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) in Arizona is a multi-million dollar astronomical research complex paid for by private donations.” (I think that last bit is there to represent that while the Vatican Observatory is an official arm of the Vatican city-state, its infrastructure doesn’t come from the donations to the church, but from donations specifically to the Specola.)

But the research isn’t just inside the telescopes. It’s done on the field, on all seven continents. In Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial, Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ, and his collaborator, Paul Mueller, talk about the research Consolmagno does into meteorites in Antarctica.

Mueller asks him why he travels to the south pole to research meteorites.

Consolmagno explains the reasons why Antarctica is the best place to do research into meteorites.

I’m still learning about the scientific practice sponsored by the Vatican — but it seems as thrilling a search for truth as any I have read about in science. Consolmagno’s memoirs are called Adventures of a Vatican Scientist.

Br. Guy Consolmagno will be in Duluth for the Sieur du Lhut Creativity Conference, which is free and open to the public on April 19. He will also do public presentations at the College of St. Scholastica on the 2oth, at the UMD Newman Center on the 19th, and virtually, from St. Paul, to the inside of the Alworth Planetarium on the 14th.

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