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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Vatican and Lucifer

There was another strange phone call today. Somebody was apparently just recently hurt by a misinformation which has been circulating on the web for two or three years. This calumny claims that the Vatican astronomers named some instrument or telescope "Lucifer".  

It is fairly clearly a typical case of degradation of information. The truth of the matter is that the Vatican Observatory is a member of the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO) consortium, together with a number of other institutions from Europe and the USA. The MGIO comprises a large number of stake holders, most of whom have nothing to do with the Vatican Observatory or its telescope.

How does this work? It is quite similar to share holders in a company. Supposing you had a six percent share in a company, while Mr XYZ had a four percent share. What could you do if Mr XYZ decided to name his pet hamster "Demon"?  

One of the stake holders in the MGIO is a group of European institutes who built an infrared camera and spectroscope, and named it "Lucifer". So what happened? First, somebody reported that an instrument called "Lucifer" was installed on Mt Graham. Then somebody remarked that Mt Graham also hosts the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, and that it is somewhat amusing that Mt Graham has both Vatican and Lucifer. Then the information somehow degraded and the slur was born: Vatican astronomers are supposedly friends with Lucifer...

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