And then I wrote… A couple of weeks ago (on April 2) I ran an article written for the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. This article also dates from that time; it was written for an “astroblog” set up by some IYA committee or another. No idea where it actually went up, but it’s a nice summary of where I was, scientifically, back in 2009… I’m writing this from the control room of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) on Mt. Graham, Arizona. Observing Centaurs, the proto-comets whose orbits cross Neptune, Uranus, and Saturn, is our project for this run; it consists of five minutes of doing nothing while the camera takes an exposure of these small iceballs, followed by a brief flurry of activity when the next picture comes off our CCD camera… a faint smudge moving from image to image across a background of stars and distant galaxies. Behind me, Bill Romanishin from the University of Oklahoma … Continue reading →
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.
I’d said that I was not going to publish any “Across the Universe” columns this year. And I have a policy of never putting them up here until a year after they’ve run in The Tablet. But this one is so particularly appropriate for the times that I though this might be a good one to make an exception about. Another comment about my Tablet columns. The Tablet is a fantastic magazine of news and opinions, centering on but not limited to Catholics in the UK, which I strongly encourage people to check out and, if you can, subscribe to. They have been publishing a monthly astronomy column from me for more than 15 years! The most frequently-asked-questions after I have given a talk about science and faith touch on the issue of natural evil and on the possibility of miracles. Both are painfully topical. If God created the universe, why are there hurricanes, earthquakes – and pandemics that sweep … Continue reading →
And then I wrote… Last month in this space I ran a number of book reviews. I was planning to go back to more of them later in the year, but with the recent death (March 22) of Bill Cassidy, the man who founded the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program, I thought it would be timely to run here a copy of the review I wrote in 2003 of his classic book on Antarctic Meteorite hunting. Oddly enough, this article was not listed in my own personal bibliography and so it took a bit of looking to figure if and where it actually was published. From the internal evidence I figured out that it had been written for the late, lamented Meteorite! Magazine but since that went out of business many years back, it doesn’t have a convenient web site to check. Fortunately, among the past editors were our own Larry and Nancy Lebofsky. They looked through their back issues and discovered that it had … Continue reading →
And then I wrote… This one dates from the International Year of Astronomy. It was published in the Times (of London) Higher Education Supplement on June 25, 2009. One of the odd side-effects of being an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory is that we often get elected to various positions in professional astronomical societies. It may be the special respect that our fellow scientists have for the Vatican; or, more likely, the fact that we don’t have to spend a large part of our days writing grant proposals (in competition with everyone else) to fund our research means that, unlike most astronomers, we have the free time to spend on these important but time-consuming offices. Whatever the reason, it has meant that for the past few years I have been watching the buildup to the IYA – the International Year of Astronomy – from the vantage point as a past president of Commission 16 (Moons and Planets) of the International … Continue reading →
Since my last posting about what we’re up to, several other members of the Vatican Observatory have chimed in with their short reports on what they’ve been up to in this time of pandemic… In the spring semester, Fr. Paul Mueller SJ normally teaches a philosophy of science course at the Pontifical Gregorian University; his offering this year is “Philosophical Questions in Biology”. And of course now he has shifted to on-line teaching, Meanwhile, as the superior of the community and vice-director of the Observatory, he has charge of the day to day running of the operation in Castel Gandolfo. He writes, “I’ve been working day-to-day with the Observatory’s lay staff members to determine whether they will come to work and what they can be doing, within the limits we must observe. All of us Jesuits have had extra time for reading and prayer. And last evening we had a cookout!” Fr. Gabriele Gionti SJ is also in Castel Gandolfo. … Continue reading →
Half of the astronomers from the Vatican Observatory work out of Castel Gandolfo, Italy, and the other half in Tucson. Italy has been under a strict lock-down for several weeks, while the University of Arizona is also closed and members of staff are strongly urged to stay home. In particular, all the telescopes at the Mount Graham International Observatory, including the Vatican’s Advanced Technology Telescope (the VATT), have been shut down in order to allow the day staff to stay down the mountain, closer to home and family (and, should it be necessary, medical care.) But our “commute” in Castel Gandolfo is just walking downstairs from the community living quarters to the Specola offices. And our home in Tucson is well served by the internet. (In fact, my own office as president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation is just a room in our house here in Tucson.) Still, I was curious to find out what people have been up to. … Continue reading →
(And Then I Wrote…) In order to let my backlog of “Across the Universe” columns build up a bit, I am republishing a selection of other articles that I have written and published in various places… This was one of my favorite book reviews… I got to be snarky and still give the book an enthusiastic thumb’s up! The review ran in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences in 2001. Turn Right at Orion: Travels Through the Cosmos by Mitchell Begelman. Perseus Publishing/Helix Books, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, 2000, 264 pp. I have to admit, I had every reason to hate this book before I even cracked open a page. As the co-author myself of a bestselling astronomy book called Turn LEFT at Orion (published more than ten years ago by Cambridge University Press, with a new edition just out), I obviously have my own opinion about how to find one’s way around the galaxy! And the plot device of this book, … Continue reading →
Today (March 24) marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Fr. Bill Stoeger. Many of us remember him for both his brilliant academic mind and his holy and gentle personality. Over the years there have been a number of posts here about him and his work… he was both a cosmologist (classmate and friend of Stephen Hawking, collaborator and co-author with a number of the great cosmologists of our era) and as a theologian. He also was greatly sought after as a spiritual director. He was also widely sought after as a speaker and subject of videos. His style was very different from most media-savvy astronomers; rather than having a glib answer ready to hand, he would speak slowly, gently, but clearly, weighing each word… and making the interviewer feel that this was perhaps the first time that question had been asked (even when in reality it was the millionth time!) Recently, at the Specola we got a lovely … Continue reading →
(And Then I Wrote…) In order to let my backlog of “Across the Universe” columns build up a bit, I am republishing a selection of other articles that I have written and published in various places… A well-known secret of book reviews is that reviews of bad books are lots more fun to write, and read. On the other hand, having been an author myself, I feel bad about scoring points off someone who’s not around to defend themselves. Every book represents a year of some poor author’s life, and it is just as much hard work to write a bad book as a good one. Well, this one was a doozie. It was also the first book I was ever sent to review, dating from back when I still worked as a professor at Lafayette College, before I joined the Jesuits. My anger was more directed at the major publisher who allowed it to be printed; the author was certainly … Continue reading →
(And Then I Wrote…) In order to let my backlog of “Across the Universe” columns build up a bit, I am republishing a selection of other articles that I have written and published in various places… Keeping up my pattern this month of book reviews, I include here a review of a The Observer’s Guide to Astronomy, Volume I. edited by Patrick Martinez in the late 1980s; translated by Storm Dunlop into English in 1994. My review ran in Icarus volume 117, pp. 216–217, in 1995. So why bother reading about a book that is now more than thirty years old? As I argue at the end of the review, “This book, written for the amateur today, may find its greatest long-term professional importance in the future as a lucid and detailed record of how astronomy used to be done, way back in the 20th century.” It also shows my typical style of book reviewing. All book reviews are personal opinions; and so I am not … Continue reading →
We have set up a memorial page for Fr. George Coyne: click here, or type in www.VOFoundation.org/fr-george-coyne/ We have three goals for this memorial page. First, we want to provide a place where people can post their memories of Fr. George. Second, we want to help organize a memorial book which would include a selection of his writings and the memories posted at that site. And third, we want to raise enough money to let us publish that book and continue the work that George so loved: the science of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope the education of young astronomers, especially from the developing world the engagement with the public with our astronomy our vision of faith and science working together Please take a look at that page, and contribute what you can, as you can. We’re hoping to raise a significant amount of money, and we already have one major gift to start things off, but we’ll also … Continue reading →
The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) has been in regular operation for twenty five years now, and it is a mainstay of our scientific efforts. There are two questions I get about it all the time. What good is a relatively small (1.8 meter aperture) telescope in the days of giant telescopes and space telescopes? And, related to that question… what actually has the VATT accomplished? The answer to the first is simple. Discoveries are made with small telescopes, and then confirmed or studied in depth with big telescopes. If you think about it, that shouldn’t be surprising. Rarely can you afford to “take a chance” with a big telescope on observing something that may or may not turn out to be interesting, because there is so much competition for observing time on those telescopes. Astronomers have to write up detailed proposals well in advance of when they want to use those telescopes. A committee will go over all of … Continue reading →