Br. Guy Consolmagno

Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J.

President, Vatican Observatory Foundation

Many years ago, back in the early 1990s, the Vatican Observatory took a bold step: with the approval of the Vatican, we decided to build and maintain an advanced technology telescope.

There were a lot of chances that we took at that time. No one had ever built a telescope around a large “f/1” mirror before, simply because before Roger Angel’s invention of the spin-cast method (where glass is melted, and then slowly cooled, in a spinning oven) such mirrors of this size were simply impossible to make. Even further, the decision was made to use “Gregorian optics” where the correcting secondary mirror placed beyond the focal point of the primary mirror. James Gregory had come up with this idea in the 19th century, but again it was only with this radical new mirror that such a design could be practical.

Well, you know the result. The “Pope Scope” with its mirror made by an Angel and an optical design that took a Gregorian chance, has turned out to be a grand success. The design choices we pioneered some thirty years ago are now being applied to some of the largest telescopes in the world, like the seven mirror Giant Magellan Telescope under construction in Chile.

But the biggest chance of all that we took was to start building the telescope without being sure we had the money to pay for it and keep it going over the years. That meant we had to throw ourselves onto the mercy of donors we had not even met yet. But this risky venture has turned out to be the most rewarding of all.

It’s not just that you’ve come through with your financial support. (Indeed you have – though we could always use more supporters!) It is that in the process, this Foundation has become a place where Jesuit astronomers and people of faith who love astronomy can meet and get together. From my point of view, it’s the place where I have gotten to meet so many of you.

We spend a lot of our efforts now at the Foundation in outreach, to teach what we’ve learned from our study of the sky. But we do it as well to learn from you. Your enthusiasm and your curiosity are what reminds us of why we do this work. Thank you so much! It is through your voices that we hear the heavens proclaiming the Glory of God.

Carl Sagan Medal

Bio: Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, is a native of Detroit, Michigan, graduating from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 1970. He studied planetary sciences at MIT (SB 1974, SM 1975) and the University of Arizona (PhD 1978), was a researcher at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps in Kenya, and taught physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989.

Since 1993 he has served as an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and was curator of the Vatican meteorite collection until his appointment 2014 as president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. Dr. Consolmagno has been elected to the governing boards of a number of international scientific organizations, including the International Astronomical Union and the Meteoritical Society; in 2006 he served a year as the  elected chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

In 2014 he won that Division’s Carl Sagan Medal for excellence in education and public outreach. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of six popular astronomy books, most notably the best-selling Turn Left at Orion (with Dan M. Davis) and Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? (with Fr. Paul Mueller SJ).

Watch Brother Guy in his TedX presentation