Vatican Astronomer Sees Meteors as Part of Divine Plan

Article excerpt

Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno has a new neighbor.

Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, has taken up temporary residence at Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome, which is the official headquarters of the Vatican Observatory.

Pope Benedict, who resigned Feb. 28, will stay at the palace there while Catholic cardinals meet in Vatican City to choose his successor.

The palace at Castel Gandolfo also serves as the papal summer residence. Brother Consolmagno, who delivered a lecture this week at Saint Vincent College, recalled a conversation he had with the former pope during a visit the pontiff made to the observatory.

"He laughed at my jokes in English and Italian," Brother Consolmagno, a Detroit native, said during an interview this week. "His English was better than my Italian."

Brother Consolmagno's visit was part of an open-house celebration on Monday for the $39 million Sis and Herman Dupre Science Pavilion at the Catholic liberal arts college.

Brother Consolmagno, one of a dozen Vatican astronomers, is an expert on meteors and meteorites. He is curator of the observatory's collection of meteorites, which are pieces of space debris that have survived their high-speed journeys through the Earth's atmosphere.

He and his fellow astronomers, who have come from four continents, are encouraged to do long-term basic science projects that may take 20 years to produce publishable results, Brother Consolmagno said. His work with the Vatican's collection of rocks from outer space is providing information about how the planets and sun that make up our solar system came to form 41/2 billion years ago, he said. …