5 Amazing Astronomical Things about Choosing a New Jesuit General!

This week, more than 200 Jesuits from around the world are gathering in Rome to elect a new Father General; you can read all about it here. But for readers of The Catholic Astronomer, I thought I would pass on five amazing things that you might not know...

  1. For the first time ever, the electors will consist not only of priests from each Jesuit province around the world but also six brothers, chosen from each continent. The representative brother from North America is, in fact... me. So, there will be at least one astronomer at the meeting. All the more reason to pray for all of us! (No fear I will get elected the new Father General -- the leader has to be a priest, not a brother. (What's the difference? Priests are ordained, brothers are not. I do not lead public prayer, say Mass, or do any of those other priestly functions. I am a layperson, who belongs to a religious order. Or, as I joke, I can hear your confession but I can't forgive you! Actually, I can't hear confessions either but I can't stop you from talking... much as I might like to.)
  2. The major church where we open the congregation, the Gesu, is just up the street from the other Jesuit church in Rome, St. Ignatius. That church was designed by Fr. Orazio Grassi SJ, the Jesuit polymath who also was the first person to observe a comet through a telescope... which infuriated Galileo, who wrote his famous book The Assayer as a way of making fun of Grassi.
  3. The Gesu is also  the burial spot of St. Robert Bellarmine, who first confronted Galileo in 1616 (a story that is more complicated than I can go into here; read this post at Thinking Faith.)
  4. Fr. Angelo Secchi SJ built a telescope from the roof of this church in the 1850s and from here first observed the dark markings on Mars he called "canali" (what he saw was real, unlike the later "canals" of Percival Lowell) and, more importantly, first classified stars by their spectra. In the process he changed the study of astronomy from asking "where are the stars located" to "what are the stars made of", and is called for that reason The Father of Astrophysics.
  5. Fifth amazing thing: headlines with clickbait like "Five Amazing Things" actually work to lure people to read posts like this!

(Edited to remove previous incomplete edit that made it look like Bellarmine confronted Galileo from the roof of the Gesu church!)

Br. Guy Consolmagno

About Br. Guy Consolmagno

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.

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5 Amazing Astronomical Things about Choosing a New Jesuit General! — 1 Comment

  1. As a Civil Engineer, I had no idea that the commonly used Secchi disk was created by Angelo Secchi SJ in 1865. The Secchi disk is a plain white, circular disk 30 cm (12 in) in diameter used to measure water transparency in bodies of water. The disc is mounted on a pole or line, and lowered slowly down in the water. The depth at which the disk is no longer visible is taken as a measure of the transparency of the water. This measure is known as the Secchi depth and is related to water turbidity. Don’t tell me that engineering and astronomy are not linked.

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