Br. Guy Diary: January 17
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My plan is to post regular updates, about once a week I hope, on my current work and the doings at the Vatican Observatory. This might give the members of our Sacred Space an idea of what our day to day life is like. Let me know if you enjoy these entries!
This week: What is Life? Learning to FUZE, and a visit from the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Another busy week!

Learning to Fuze: My big tasks this week were to get ready for the online course I am teaching for the Jesuit Virtual Learning Academy which began on Thursday. What astronomy do you teach a bunch of kids with different backgrounds? I have decided on a radical course – at least, I think it is radical. Instead of using a standard textbook, I am having the class buy H. A. Rey's classic book, The Stars. By midterm they should have learned most of the constellations, plus the material in the back of that book which does such a great job of describing how the stars appear to move in our skies, and why.

Only after they've mastered that will we go into the standard material of describing what we know of stars, nebulae, galaxies, black holes etc. etc.

I am also planning on having them get access, for as long as they are in the course, to this web site so that they too can see what astronomers are up to, day to day!

As a part of this experience, I am learning how to use the Fuze software, which the JVLA uses to chat with students. One hope I have is that, once I see hot it works, we may use it (or something like it) to power live, online conversations here at this web site. Stay tuned!

What is Life? Well, for one thing, it's the name of a favorite George Harrison song. But it is also the title of a talk I will be giving on January 27 to open the University of Arizona's College of Sciences annual science lecture series. The topic this year is Life in the Universe. I had to prepare a first cut at the talk to give to the other presenters on Thursday. They seemed to like it, but they also had lots of good suggestions to improve and expand the topic. Since I will be setting the stage for their talks, it is really useful to make sure we're all on the same page.

Refugees: Our community here in Tucson is not far from a Jesuit work at the Nogales Border to help refugees and immigrants.

Bishop Kicanas giving communion through the fence in Nogales

In support of that work, and all the other work that is done by the Jesuit Refugee Service, we hosted a JRS fundraiser here at our home, last Wednesday.

One question that we don't often get asked directly, but which is in the back of everyone's minds I am sure, is, "why do you guys do astronomy when there are people starving in the world?" That question is what drove me to quit astronomy thirty years ago and join the Peace Corps. What I learned in Africa was that people everywhere are hungry not only for food but for the food of the soul that astronomy can help nourish; to deny them that food, is to deny them their humanity. We do not live by bread alone. (I read that somewhere.)

Nonetheless, food is essential, too. And so we support our brother Jesuits in their work. Brother Tom, whom I have mentioned in earlier posts, worked himself for the JRS in a refugee camp in Thailand for many years.

And it turns out that the Jesuit rep of the JRS who came to our fundraiser, Fr. Kevin White, is himself a former Peace Corps Volunteer who arrived in Kenya the year I left to come back to the States! Small world...

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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