Br Guy Diary: February 13, 2015

Happy Friday the 13th! Of course, in Italy, Friday the 17th is considered to be the bad luck day. Though it's only six days since my last diary, the weekend will be especially busy...

I am in Boston this weekend for the annual Boskone Science Fiction Convention, something I have been attending since about 1972, when I was an undergraduate at MIT. Back then, these conventions covered everything from movies to games to books; nowadays, each subgenre has its own conventions and so Boskone tends to concentrate on writers and what they write. I hope to meet up with a number of old friends, many of whom have become well known writers in the field. And I'll be participating in four panels of scientists discussing things ranging from what's new in astrophysics this year, to what the next big disruptive technology might be...

But that's getting ahead of myself. I got back to Tucson from my trip to North Carolina and Ohio on Saturday, and immediately plunged into the world of Foundation business... trying to make sense of where the money has gone last year and how much we need to raise, this year. The good news is that we actually accused more money than I had thought, when one considers what our investments yielded. The bad news is that we also spent more than I thought. For the past many years, the Foundation has been running at a small deficit every year, and this year alas was no different. That's one reason why we're doing fundraising with this blog. (Please spread the word about the blog to your friends and neighbors!)

Toward that end, Katie Steinke came this week to work on two projects for the upcoming year. One is our trip to Chile, which will occur in April; it looks to be a very exciting time, where we will accompany Foundation members to visit the telescopes that make Chile famous in the world of astronomy.

The other is a wide-ranging plan for making the Vatican Observatory Foundation a nexus of materials on faith and astronomy that can be used by Catholic educators, and educated Catholics, in conjunction with potential funding from the Templeton Foundation. Watch this space!

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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Br Guy Diary: February 13, 2015 — 7 Comments

      • “The other is a wide-ranging plan for making the Vatican Observatory Foundation a nexus of materials on faith and astronomy that can be used by Catholic educators, and educated Catholics, in conjunction with potential funding from the Templeton Foundation. Watch this space!”

        First, enjoy the snow! After Antarctica, I would presume this will feel like a warm summer! 🙂

        Second, on a more serious note, I offered a little of my prayer time last night for the Foundation (As a pastor, I know the, “How are we going to pay our bills?” prayer quite well). What jumped into my mind was the last paragraph about education outreach. As a former priest/teacher in a Catholic high school, I know that science teachers in a Catholic school can feel stress over “how do I teach science subjects in a Catholic school that have moral implications?” Further, from the diocesan and parent standpoint, there can be a lot of suspicion about teaching evolution in Catholic schools due to the false presumption that somehow evolution is against Catholicism. I am not suggesting that the Vatican Observatory Foundation develop an entire science curriculum (but if you had the time, I think that would be wonderful), but I do think it would be of great benefit the create a curriculum supplement on core tension points that arise in schools that have a faith/science aspect (evolution, human origins, origins of the universe, overpopulation, understanding the beginning of Genesis properly, how do we understand scientists who claim their work disproves God’s existent, etc.). I know that some of these topics go beyond Astronomy, but after my experience with the scientist from the observatory, I feel pretty confident that clear, educated, and accessible resources and projects could be offered on these subjects. In short, high school students get into the “controversial,” hot button stuff – capitalize on that!

        Personally, if I were still teaching, developing an online “night lab” with either robotic telescopes or a “live from the Vatican Observatory” webinar would be great! When I spoke with Fr. Gabor at FAW, it sounds like the one drawback of these types of programs is that you need a teacher who is very driven by astronomy to make these things work. Therefore, though I personally would love something like this, it might be better to do something that is a little more broad in scope and something that is not dependent upon the small number of teachers who are really into astronomy in the high school teaching world. This is, unfortunately, something that needs to be considered going forward too: How many science teachers actually have background in astronomy? The more I started opening up about my love of Astronomy, science teachers in our diocese would as ask me, “Do you anything I could use for my curriculum? I didn’t have much astronomy when I was in college.” My gut tells me that this might be more of a regional issue – the areas were astronomy is done professionally will have more astronomy training than areas that are not known for professional astronomy. Therefore, I also think that offering astronomy lesson plans, power points, videos, and observation projects for high school teachers would be well received. Personally, I would have loved it if I could have found a “cross-curriculum” project that both our science teachers and myself could have done. Again, however, that is presuming you would have a religion and science teacher who would actually want to work together on something.

        Just some thoughts. I will call my good friend I once taught with to get her opinions on it from a science teacher perspective. Time for homily prep!

        • Just had a chance to talk with one of my former colleagues in the Catholic school world. She is a micro-biologist, so, predictably, her big questions on faith and science came through the eyes of biologist: Evolution, Ecology, and Biotechnology (a lot of questions on mitochondrial transplants, is it ethical to change germ lines, and who of genetic engineering is ethical). She affirmed my suspicion that, even though the astronomy materials would be of interest, to also include “hot button” topics on things like stem cells research, science questions around abortion and so forth would catch a school teachers eye immediately because that is where the main tension points emerge with parents and administrators. To do this would fall outside of the scope the Vatican Observatory’s focus on Astronomy, but she thought if there was a way to put together a “both and” that would have astronomy in addition to other science/ethics questions that teachers struggle with would be of great help. Similar to what I mentioned earlier, there are things she would be interested in with Astronomy in regard to universal origins and how we approach Scripture with these science questions in the background. Okay, enough for a while… I’m posting to much!

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