Bob Garrison (1936-2017)
avatar

A noted astronomer and great friend of the Vatican Observatory, Bob Garrison, died on August 13. The Specola’s Fr. Chris Corbally, a friend and close collaborator of Dr. Garrison, writes: After 81 years of life, and over 21 years of Parkinson’s, Bob Garrison died last Sunday morning. Today I received this obituary, written by his son, Lee, with input from his partner, Susanna. There’s a mention of how he treasured being a VOSS’ 90 faculty person. You will remember that he was my doctoral mentor at the University of Toronto, during which he became a lasting friend and collaborator. The Vatican Observatory hosted a Festschrift for Bob in Tucson in 2002, a few years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Yes, Bob had great regard for VO! I was able to congratulate him for reaching his 80th birthday when I visited him and Susanna in Toronto last November. His obituary reads: Dr. Robert (Bob) Frederick Garrison Born in 1936 to … Continue reading

Diary: Where does the money go? (Part 2)
avatar

In a previous post, I noted that the Vatican Observatory Foundation (which sponsors this blog) has to raise about $800,000 a year to cover its commitments, and at the moment we are running very much behind. On the order of $300,000 a year behind, to be exact. That’s… distressing. What do we plan to do about it? Lots of things, but one in particular concerns you, the readers of this blog. The Catholic Astronomer has been around for about three years, and every year our readership is doubled and our support has likewise increased. Let’s just give an overview of where we are as of the end of July, 2017: We have 584 people who subscribe to our free email notification whenever there is a new posting. In addition, we publicize these on the Foundations’s Facebook site (just under 3,900 followers), and on our Vatican Observatory twitter site (6,600 followers) and the Foundation twitter site (1,400 followers). We get on … Continue reading

Diary: Where does the money go? (Part I)
avatar

In a recent post, I put out a short beg for folks to actually subscribe at $10 a month (more if you want!) and keep this blog, and the Foundation, going. This has brought up, quite rightly, a question about where exactly this money goes. The first item, of course, is to pay for the cost of this blog itself. At the moment, that’s covered. But the bigger goal is to have surplus from this funding go to support the Vatican Observatory Foundation and its works. What is it that the Foundation does? If you want to know what the Vatican Observatory Foundation has been up to lately, click here for a pdf of our most recent newsletter. What about the details of our funding? Where does it come from, where does it go? That’s covered in our annual report, (click here). The numbers in the annual report are the accountant’s numbers, which is different from actual cash flow. For one … Continue reading

Proclaiming the Heavens
avatar

Since February, our daily readership here at the Catholic Astronomer site has doubled. That’s the good news. However, the number of folks who are subscribers or member/supporters hasn’t doubled. A lot of people read this site via the Vatican Observatory Foundation Facebook page, which is great. But you may not realize that we depend on paying supporters of the blog to keep this site operating. We pay each of our bloggers – not much, but enough to maintain the principle that writers deserve an income, the laborer is worthy of a wage. (1 Timothy 5:18, for those Catholics in the audience who don’t know their scripture!) And there are other technical support costs. Only your donations can keep this operation moving. Of course, what I am hoping is that any donations above our costs (which, thankfully, we do have) can grow to become a major support for the work of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. It takes a lot of money … Continue reading

Frye Fire: VATT Damage Assessment on June 27
avatar

I was happy to report a few days ago that the news about the demise of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) in a fire on Sunday June 18 had been exaggerated. The good people at the site informed me that the VATT appeared unharmed but I was still a little uneasy. I knew that there had been a lot of heat and even more smoke. The heat could have damaged the dome. If the dome’s roundness had been compromised, it would have lost its ability to rotate freely. If the smoke had deposited conductive soot on the electronic circuit boards and corrosive tar on the coated optical surfaces, it would have made us expend considerable resources on cleaning, testing, recoating and recommissioning. I feared that months of diligent work lay before us. The only way to restore my peace of mind was to hasten to the VATT and assess the damage. But how?  I made some preliminary arrangements to … Continue reading

VATT Smoked but not Cooked in Frye Fire
avatar

At 12:27 local time on Sunday June 18, Kevin Newton emailed this image from the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) building with the caption, “VATT is in trouble.” The photograph shows a red plume of fire in the direction where the VATT (Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope) ought to be. When I saw it, I was very nervous but I knew that things cannot be quite as bad as the picture suggested. Kevin’s email came to me via the microwave communications tower standing 15ft from the VATT building. ‘If the tower is OK,’ I kept telling myself, ‘then the VATT must be OK, too.’ … Continue reading

Faith and Science: One Stop Shopping!
avatar

We’re pleased to announce the latest outreach project of the Vatican Observatory Foundation: A Faith and Science resource site (click here!) The idea is to have a place where Catholic educators – and educated Catholics – can go to find links to materials all over the web dealing with a variety of topics on the broad issue of Faith and Science. This web site is not complete, of course, and probably never will be… new material is being posted (and being brought to our attention) all the time. In fact, when you go to the site you’ll notice a certain bias towards material that our own members of the Vatican Observatory, past and present, have prepared and posted on-line. Rather than describing it further, I encourage you to go explore the site itself. And if you have comments or suggestions, please let us know. However, there’s one point I do want to make here. Sites like these don’t happen for … Continue reading

Should you (or someone you love) go to MIT?
avatar

Today is “PI” day (written in American style, 3/14…) and MIT is holding a one day fundraiser… In honor of this day, this provides me with an excuse to post something I wrote for my Live Journal account a few years ago and which I get asked about from parents (and grandparents) of prospective students all the time. Of course the MIT I attended was nearly half a century back, but things haven’t changed all that much… Do I recommend MIT? Only if you are a very particular type of student. There is a reason why schools like MIT are so rare: because for most people, it is the wrong school to go to. MIT is not a place to find yourself. Because it is such an intense environment, it can be devastating to anyone who doesn’t already have a strong sense of who they are, and where they want to go. (Mind you, after MIT is finished with you, the person … Continue reading

Five Reasons Why Clickbait Works
avatar

There’s two opposing theories about posting stuff in the week between Christmas and New Years. On the one hand, everyone’s off having a good time and not paying attention to the internet. On the other hand, nobody else is posting anything so you have a better chance than usual of actually being noticed by the folks who do. It’s been a while since I have posted a diary on The Catholic Astronomer about this blog itself, so I am taking these off-days to do so. Since the self-referential title promised five points (I just made up the number five now, I have no idea how many points I’ll have) let me start numbering them. Even though we don’t charge you for reading it, this web site is not free. I pay (a pittance, admittedly) to our bloggers, and that money has to come from someplace. In addition we pay a standing fee to Cyrcle Systems for regular maintenance, etc. Some months … Continue reading

Habemus Papam Neram!
avatar

I am writing to you from Rome with wonderful news — we have a new Father General… the so-called “Black Pope”! As you may have seen in our Fall Newsletter I was elected to attend the 36th General Congregation. More than 200 Jesuits from around the world (including six brothers like myself) gathered in Rome at the beginning of October. Our first task was to choose a new Father General, to replace Fr. Nicholas who has retired due to failing health. It was a fascinating process. We spent the first week discussing in detail the current state of the Church and the Jesuit order (while recovering from jet-lag!). Then this past Monday we entered a four day period called “Murmuratio” — where we all broke off into pairs and discussed, one on one, the possible candidates, their strengths and their weaknesses. In this way I had deep conversations — and got to know very well — probably a quarter of all … Continue reading

A short begging diary…
avatar

I am at Sevenhill, in South Australia, the place where Dan Davis and I observed the southern skies for Turn Left at Orion, and I am about to start eight days of a silent retreat. That means I’ll be off-line for a while. Please take care of the internet while I am gone… In particular, it would be great if you could help take care of one small part of the internet that has become quite dear to me: this blog, The Catholic Astronomer. I’m really proud of the contributors and all they have done for us, and delighted that with your financial help we’re able to pay them. (A pittance, but it’s the principle of the thing.) Where does the money to pay them (and support our other Education and Public Outreach efforts) come from? People like you, as PBS likes to put it. We’ve got a solid cadre of just over 100 people who subscribe at various levels, … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Clouds from Both Sides
avatar

This column first ran in The Tablet in August 2010 Saturday, seventeen hours from California, my friend Dan and I land in Australia. We’re looking forward to a week of observing southern stars, researching our latest book, a guide for amateur astronomers. Brother Ian meets us at the airport and leads us to the Jesuit winery and retreat house at Sevenhill, two hours north of Adelaide. Even jet-lag and a partly cloudy sky can’t stop us from pulling out our telescopes that night and peeking at Rigel Kentaurus, our Sun’s nearest neighbor, and Acrux, the brightest star of the Southern Cross. Both are double stars, first split by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century.  After half an hour, the sky clouds over completely. But not to worry, we have the whole week before us. (A heat wave across North America threatens the lives of the poor and elderly.) Sunday, Ian shows us around the vineyards and the tells us the history of the … Continue reading