(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… The year 2009 marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope, and there were a number of articles and publications in its honor. This one I wrote for a special publication in the US in honor of the International Year of Astronomy… and as an extra treat, it includes yet another funny story about the big gas spectra tube at the U of Arizona Lunar Lab that I wrote about last month in our “Stupid Astronomer” series… In my astronomical work, I use a microscope as much as a telescope. Though I do spend time every year observing at the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope in southern Arizona, the majority of my time is spent in a laboratory in the gardens of the Pope’s summer home outside … 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 am back now from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY, where the funeral of Fr. George Coyne was held on Monday. First, I thought I would share here a couple of items that showed the respect Fr. Coyne had both in the world at large and at Le Moyne College. To begin, here’s a copy of the obituary as run in the Sunday New York Times on February 16: While I was at Le Moyne, I was given a tour of the science building and found that George was mentioned both on their “wall of Jesuit sciences” and on a large poster in a passageway between buildings on campus: Finally, two more items I want to publish here are a cleaned-up version of the comments that I was invited to give at the funeral, and the remarks that the president of Le Moyne, Dr. Linda LeMura Reflections on the life of a Jesuit Astronomer, Br Guy Consolmagno, Vatican Observatory … 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… In 2008, the magazine US Catholic invited a number of writers to submit their choices for modern “spiritual classics”. Here was my choice… Spiritual classics are inspirational works, tested by time, designed to bring one closer to God. Chesterton and Newman come to mind. I have works on my shelf from modern religious writers, from Peter Kreeft to Anne Lamott, who manage to inspire me — when I am not furiously disagreeing with them. But my soul’s deepest stirring comes from a source neither literary nor overtly religious… [In order to read the rest of this post, you have to be a paid-up member of Sacred Space, and logged in as such!]Continue reading →
George Coyne, who directed the Vatican Observatory for nearly 30 years and founded the Vatican Observatory Foundation (home of this site), died on Tuesday, February 11 at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., where he was being treated for bladder cancer. He was 87 years old. The New York Times (online edition) has run an obituary for him, which you can link to here; their recognition is a tribute to his stature as an astronomer and a Jesuit. I also wrote up a short piece about him for the L’Osservatore Romano, which they edited and ran in Italian; below you’ll find the full English text that I submitted to them. What’s curious to me is that the Times led their article by talking about George’s work in Galileo and evolution whereas I didn’t even mention that in my article. It makes sense, of course. To most readers of the Times, those topics were the things that had brought him into … 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… In 2006-2007 I took a sabbatical year at Fordham University; where others take sabbaticals to get away from teaching and do research, my idea was to get a break from research and do some teaching! While there, I was invited to write a short article to introduce myself to the Fordham community. Here’s what I gave them: I fell into the scientific life by accident. I chose to attend MIT as much for its science fiction collection as anything else: the career of a mad scientist looked like fun! Once there… [In order to read the rest of this post, you have to be a paid-up member of Sacred Space, and logged in as such!]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… In 2005 I was honored to be one of three scientists invited to contribute to a lengthy obituary for a great scientist whom I once worked for, Al Cameron. We had some fun with it, simply because Al was such an amazing (and talented) guy. To name just three now-commonplace ideas that he was responsible for: 1. He was a pioneer in the theoretical calculation of how elements are made in stars, a field now called “nucleosynthesis” 2. He applied his “s-process” nucleosynthesis theories to elements found in both stars and meteorites, and thus based on a combination data from the spectra of stars and the composition of primitive meteorites recalculated our estimate of the abundances of the elements in the universe. 3. He worked … Continue reading →
As our constant readers may be aware, we ran a subscription drive over the last two weeks of January; our goal was to get 150 new readers and as many new subscribers as possible. So how did we do? At the end of December, the last diary here, we had 9477 on the roll call and 141 paid subscribers. As of today, February 3, it is now 9637 on the roll call and 161 paid subscribers! You will note that this is exactly 150 new people on the roll call. Pretty good, huh? Well, OK, I’m cheating. I was really hoping to double our paid subscribers, to go from 140 to about 300. Of course, I knew that was totally unrealistic. But still, 161 is pretty darn good, and I am delighted with every subscriber we get. Let’s remember why we do this. The point of Sacred Space Astronomy is to spread the good word of astronomy, and remind people … Continue reading →
We’re running a membership drive this month – today is the last day – and as a part of it we’re including this blatant clickbait series… Besides, it’s a chance to tell some of the funny stories that come up during cloudy nights at the VATT! The old astronomer tells the tale… this story is all on me. It was nearly 50 years ago (January, 1973) and two friends of mine and I had arranged to do an undergraduate research project during MIT’s January intersession (IAP), five nights observing the Moon at the Wallace Observatory outside of Boston. There we had access to a 16 inch aperture telescope, and a filter wheel photometer. Think of the photometer as a one-pixel electronic camera: a phototube with a phosphor at one end to turn light into electrons, which would be slowly accelerated down the length of the tube until they had enough energy to register as an electric current. Before the light hit … Continue reading →
(And Then I Wrote…) Since this site began more than six years ago, every Thursday I have been publishing a reprint from my column “Across the Universe” in the British Catholic journal, The Tablet. I have finally gone through all of them (except for 2019’s columns) and I’ve even re-published a few of the oldest ones that came out here before our readership had grown. In order to let my backlog build up a bit, I am taking “Across the Universe” offline for 2020. Instead, I am republishing a selection of other articles that I have written an published in various places… often obscure. Remember the “New Atheism”? It was all the rage around 2006 and 2007. At that time, the magazine US Catholic invited me to write my response to people like Dawkins and Hitchens. Here’s what I sent them. It ran in their November, 2008, issue. Last fall , I confess, I was in the habit of looking … Continue reading →
Tomorrow is the last day!! We’re running a membership drive this month – our goal is 150 new members – and as a part of it we’re including this blatant clickbait series… Besides, it’s a chance to tell some of the funny stories that come up during cloudy nights at the VATT! The old astronomer tells the tale… So I can hear you asking, after yesterday’s tale of cyanide vented into the air conditioning system, what ever happened to that glass beaker of water and cyanide? The truth is, I don’t know. But according to the story I heard… after the guys on the roof were informed that the campus police were on their way to the roof, to check out the source of the building’s contamination, they quickly fled back to their lab, glass beaker of water with dissolved cyanide in hand. Now what to do? Well, if the Arizona heat would promote its evaporation, probably keeping the stuff cool would … Continue reading →
The Vatican Observatory sponsors a number of workshops in Castel Gandolfo and one that might be of particular interest to graduate students studying astrophysics and those studying the history of astronomy will be held from September 28 to October 3 at our headquarters south of Rome, Italy. The topic is “Astrophysics in the Light of History” — the workshop will focus on the history of stellar astrophysics and the interstellar medium, and feature a number of noted historians in the field, headed up by Dr. John Hearnshaw who literally “wrote the book” about the history of spectroscopy. The application deadline is coming soon — February 10. Click HERE for more information and to get to the on-line application form.Continue reading →
Almost over! We’re running a membership drive this month – our goal is 150 new members – and as a part of it we’re including this blatant clickbait series… Besides, it’s a chance to tell some of the funny stories that come up during cloudy nights at the VATT! The old astronomer tells the tale… Yesterday we talked about the problems of getting rid of the gas in the absorption tube after its spectrum had been measured. Just piping it outdoors left a telltale red spot, so for the next gas the lab personnel decided to be more clever. Along with inorganic chemicals like the ones mentioned yesterday as possible constituents of Jupiter’s atmosphere, there were many organic molecules that might exist there; most of them presumably derived from broken-up and reassembled bits of simpler, more basic compounds such as HCN, better known as hydrogen cyanide. So the tube was dutifully filled with cyanide and the spectrum measured. Now, to get rid … Continue reading →