Looking to the Heavens 'Closer to the Creator' Religion and Science Faith and Science Vatican Stargazers Look for Divine Inspiration Looking to the Heavens

Deseret News (Salt Lake City), June 3, 2017 | Go to article overview

Looking to the Heavens 'Closer to the Creator' Religion and Science Faith and Science Vatican Stargazers Look for Divine Inspiration Looking to the Heavens


By JOSEPHINE MCKENNA

Religion News Service

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy - In a forgotten corner of the pope's sprawling summer estate at Castel Gandolfo in the hills outside Rome, an unusual group of astronomers and cosmologists looks to the heavens for divine inspiration.

Twelve Catholic priests and brothers live, work and pray at the Vatican Observatory as they explore some of the universe's biggest scientific questions, from the Big Bang theory to the structure of meteorites and stars.

"The observatory exists to show the world that the Catholic Church supports science," said Brother Guy Consolmagno, an astronomer from Detroit who is also the observatory's director.

"We have two jobs - to do science and show the world. My job is to make sure the other scientists have the space and resources to do the work."

The observatory, or "specola" as it is known in Italian, lies hidden inside 135 acres of lush gardens filled with gnarled oak trees and manicured flowerbeds.

These days tourists can tour the palace where, up until Pope Francis, the popes have traditionally spent their summer vacations. The vast gardens are also open to the public, and a tiny train takes visitors along shadowy paths past the ruins of another spectacular palace, where the Roman Emperor Domitian holidayed in great style in the first century A.D.

But few realize there is a hive of scientific research underway at Castel Gandolfo that has more to do with the future than the past. The observatory recently hosted an international conference to discuss black holes, gravitational waves and other scientific questions.

Pope Francis personally greeted the 35 participants, who included the 1999 Nobel laureate in physics, Gerald 't Hooft from the Netherlands; British mathematician Sir Roger Penrose; and Renata Kallosh, a theoretical physicist from Stanford University.

"I encourage you to persevere in your search for truth," the pope told the top-level researchers. "For we ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas, but welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility."

Brother Consolmagno, who is a Jesuit like the pope, specializes in meteorites and asteroids and loves showing off specimens among the 1,000 in the observatory's collection as well as a piece of the moon rock collected during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

"People have been good at what meteorites are made of, but no one had done a survey of their physical properties," he said. "We took it upon ourselves to be those people. …

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