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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA astronomy department draws Vatican visitor

    While walking past Steward Observatory’s white dome, many students may not know that it is one of the world’s leading astronomical research centers. It also holds a partnership with The Vatican Observatory, which brought a very important visitor to Tucson.

    His Eminence Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the President of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, visited Tucson this weekend to see the work the Vatican Observatory Research Group accomplishes at Steward Observatory.

    “”This is the first time in many years that the Cardinal has come and he is enthusiastic about our work,”” said Dr. George Coyne. “”He wants to keep promoting it.””

    Coyne was the director of the Vatican Observatory from 1978 to 2006 and was very influential in the formation of the Vatican Observatory Research Group at the UA.

    The Vatican Observatory came to Tucson in 1980 and opened its dependent research center in the UA’s astronomy department. Then, five years later, plans were made to form a partnership.

    In 1985, the UA offered the possibility of partnering with Vatican astronomers to build a telescope with an 80-inch mirror.

    “”They said ‘Look, if you find the funds to build this telescope, we’ll be partners in this,'”” said Coyne. “”It served the university by having a partner who would test this new technology, and it served us because we would now have our own telescope on Mt. Graham, which is one of the best sites in the world.””

    Lajolo said in a small press conference that he is here to learn more about the partnership so that he can better support it in the name of Pope Benedict XVI.

    “”I personally wish to see that the Vatican Observatory becomes greater known around the world,”” he said. “”Especially here in the United States since we have established this research group here in Tucson.””

    Lajolo reports directly to Pope Benedict XVI about the Vatican Observatory, which is headquartered in the papal summer home of Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.

    His visit coincides with the International Year of Astronomy 2009, which celebrates the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope.

    “”It’s a nice coincidence,”” said Christopher Corbally of the Vatican Observatory Research Group. “”It’s a wonderful year to express the church’s interest in astronomy.””

    Lajolo said the mission of the Vatican Observatory is to know the truth.

    “”The first and most important mission is to know the truth about the sky,”” he said. “”We are sure that we come to our results because of our faith.””

    These astronomers are studying objects that are millions of light-years away, looking at what they are composed of, how they are evolving and how they collide with other galaxies, he said.

    Students entering graduate school in astronomy can apply for a month of summer school at the headquarters in Rome.

    “”Students from around the world come to study a special topic in astronomy,”” Coyne said. “”So that’s a real contact with students and we’ve done that since 1986.””

    José Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, said you do not need to belong to a certain religion to attend the summer school.

    “”They are selected because they are good students, they have good motivation to come to school and they have good grades,”” he said. “”Religion is not a requirement to go to the school.””

    The Cardinal also said his visit would allow him to thank those who are involved in the program.

    “”I wish to thank those who support the work of the observatory and their contributions to the Vatican observatory foundation,”” he said. “”And also to encourage them and others to support this important work of the church.””

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