Dr. Eric Bell and Fr. Richard D’Souza, astronomer at the Specola Vaticana working at the University of Michigan, have published a paper in Nature Astronomy indicating that the galaxy M32, which orbits the Andromeda Galaxy, is actually the remnant of a much larger galaxy that merged with Andromeda two billion years ago. All these galaxies are members of the “Local Group” of galaxies that include our own Milky Way galaxy.
Fr. George V. Coyne SJ, who directed the Vatican Observatory for nearly 30 years from 1978 to 2006, died on Tuesday, February 11 at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y where he was being treated for bladder cancer. He was 87 years old.
Fr. Coyne was named director of the Vatican Observatory at the age of 45 — notably he was one of the few appointments made during the brief papacy of John Paul I — after the unexpected death of his predecessor. He served until he was 73, the longest term of any Observatory director.
During his tenure as Observatory director, Fr Coyne oversaw the modernization of the Observatory’s role in the world of science, welcoming onto its staff a number of young Jesuit astronomers from around the world including Africa, Asia, and South America. Under his leadership the Vatican Observatory Research Group was established at the University of Arizona and in collaboration with the University he made possible the construction of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, with the world’s first spin-cast mirror, on Mt. Graham.
Fr. Coyne promoted the dialogue between science and theology at the highest level. In close collaboration with Pope St. John Paul II, in the 1990s he organized a series of conferences on “God’s Action in the Universe” at the Observatory’s headquarters in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, in collaboration with the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences of Berkeley, California. A series of proceedings were published by the University of Notre Dame Press. A letter from St. John Paul to George Coyne on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of Newton’s Principia was one of the most detailed statements of Catholic theology on the relation between science and faith. He wrote a number of publications on this topic, most notably his book with Alessandro Omizzolo, Wayfarers in the Cosmos: The Human Quest for Meaning.
And with the establishment in 1986 of the biennial Vatican Observatory Summer Schools in astronomy and astrophysics, Fr Coyne advanced the education of a generation of young astronomers, especially from developing countries.
On September 18, 2015, Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ has become the new director of the Vatican Observatory. He succeeds Fr. José Funes SJ, who is ending the second of his five-year terms. Fr. Fune’s tenure included successfully guiding the Observatory to new modern headquarters in the Papal Summer Gardens, and beginning the ongoing program of upgrading the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope in Arizona. We all wish Fr. Funes, SJ great success in his new assignment, returning to his home to teach at the Jesuit University in Córdoba, Argentina.
I am honored and humbled that Pope Francis has appointed me to this position. I can only look in awe at the wonderful things previous directors have accomplished, especially the two Jesuits who have been my directors, Fr. George Coyne, SJ and Fr. José Funes, SJ. I have seen first hand how the Holy Spirit has guided their talents to let us understand all the more intimately this amazing universe.
And I am equally humbled by the continued support of the Holy See for our work in Astronomy, ever since the Observatory was first founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. It is important to remember that this Observatory was a Pope’s idea, not ours!
But we do this work not just because a Pope wants us to do it. All the science we do, and all the outreach we do, reflects a quality that motivates everything we do in astronomy: a sense of joy. The stars are glorious, and it’s a treat to be engaged in their study. Their glory proclaims the Glory of their Creator!
Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is Director of the the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned undergraduate and masters' degrees from MIT, and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona; he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989.
At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, observing Kuiper Belt comets with the Vatican's 1.8 meter telescope in Arizona, and applying his measure of meteorite physical properties to understanding asteroid origins and structure. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of a number of popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and most recently Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? (with Father Paul Mueller, SJ). He also has hosted science programs for BBC Radio 4, been interviewed in numerous documentary films, appeared on The Colbert Report, and for more than ten years he has written a monthly science column for the British Catholic magazine, The Tablet.
Dr. Consolmagno's work has taken him to every continent on Earth; for example, in 1996 he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with a NASA team on the blue ice regions of East Antarctica. He has served on the governing boards of the Meteoritical Society; the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (of which he was chair in 2006-2007); and IAU Commission 16 (Planets and Satellites). In 2000, the small bodies nomenclature committee of the IAU named an asteroid, 4597 Consolmagno, in recognition of his work. In 2014 he received the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences for excellence in public communication in planetary sciences.
The Vatican Observatory promotes education and research opportunities
The Vatican Observatory is committed to scientific astronomical research, education, and the promotion of scientific enterprise by being one of the founding members of the International Network of Catholic Astronomy Institutions (INCAI) which organizes the workshop “Exploring the Nature of the Evolving Universe III” to be held at the Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago from the 19 to the 24 of August, 2013.
The International Network of Catholic Astronomical Institutions was established in the summer of 2008 for the promotion of education and research opportunities for faculty, staff, and students in astronomy and space sciences. The partnership between the Vatican Observatory and the Catholic Universities has enabled graduate students to conduct research at the Vatican Observatory.
For more information visit the conference website: http://robsaito.wix.com/incai2013