Overview

Since 1986, the Vatican Observatory has hosted biennial Summer Schools at Castel Gandolfo to give young scientists from around the world an opportunity to learn with the world’s leading experts in astronomy.

Alumni from the schools continue to lead in many areas of astronomical research. Among them are Fernando Comeron, Deputy Director for Science of the European Southern Observatory; Heino Falcke, chair of Science Council of the Event Horizon Telescope, which achieved the first image of a black hole in 2019; and Ray Jayawardhana, Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of astronomy at Cornell University.

Alumni from the schools continue to lead in many areas of astronomical research. Among them are Fernando Comeron, Deputy Director for Science of the European Southern Observatory; Heino Falcke, chair of Science Council of the Event Horizon Telescope, which achieved the first image of a black hole in 2019; and Ray Jayawardhana, Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of astronomy at Cornell University.

Programs

Summer Schools

VOSS (Vatican Observatory Summer School)

In 1985, Fr. Martin McCarthy SJ realized that, because the Observatory does not give degrees, we had little chance for contact with young people. That was a shame, he thought, since they are not only the promise for the future of the field, but also often among the most active and imaginative researchers even now.

How could this be solved?

He hit upon the idea of a regular month-long summer school to be held at the Observatory at Castel Gandolfo on some special topic in astronomy and astrophysics.

A year later, the Vatican Observatory Summer School program was born. Since then, the Observatory has held such a school roughly every two years.

The schools are open to advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students in astronomy from around the world; more than 55 nations have been represented so far.

The only rules limiting who can attend are that the students must show evidence of likely success as professional astronomers; and no more than two students from any given nation are accepted.

Observatory at Castel Gandolfo

Observatory at Castel Gondolfo

Student Selection

The great challenge is choosing 25 students out of an applicant pool of as many as 200 candidates. A majority of the students selected come from developing countries.

Tuition is free, and significant financial support ensures that every student accepted is able to attend.

To date, more than 400 young astronomers have passed through these schools, and over 85% are still active in astronomy.

They have gone on to work at the most prestigious institutions around the world, like the Max Planck Institut für Astrophysik, the European Southern Observatory, and leading astronomy programs at universities in the US including Arizona, Caltech, and Cornell.

Faculty

The faculty are among the most notable astronomers of their age, drawn from leading observatories and universities around the world.

Among them have been Vera Rubin, winner of the 2002 Gruber Cosmology Prize; Frank Shu, later president of the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan; Michael A’Hearn, the Principal Investigator of the NASA Deep Impact mission to Comet 9P/Temple; and Didier Queloz, who shared in the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the first extrasolar planet.

SVOSS (Super Vatican Observatory Summer School)

Roughly every ten years the Vatican Observatory hosts a week-long gathering of past participants and alumni of the Vatican Observatory Summer Schools (VOSS). So far, four such SuperVOSS meetings have been held, the most recent in 2019.

Typically the meetings are divided into sessions devoted to research talks, where the participants share with one another the work they have been doing since their summer school experiences, and sessions devoted to the issues of science education and the dialogue between science and culture.

Of course, the highlights are informal social gatherings, including tours of the Specola, where these scientists who span four decades of experience in the world of science can get to know each other. Here, ideas and collaborations and – most importantly – friendships can grow and prosper.

Previous Summer Schools

  • Event: Learning the Universe - Data Science Tools for Astronomical Surveys
  • Date: 04-30 June 2023
  • Location: Specola Vaticana - Castel Gandolfo, Roma

Description: Major surveys such as Gaia, Pan-STARRS and Zwicky Transient Facility, have measured billions of celestial sources, resulting in astronomical datasets in the petabyte domain; future surveys will continue this trend, generating ever larger datasets. The 2023 VOSS will explore the science behind these surveys, present the concepts of Big Data and Machine Learning, and provide a hands-on data analysis experience that will enable students to utilize these data sets for their own astronomical projects.

List of Faculty:

  • Name: Viviana Acquaviva (Co-Chair)
    Location: CUNY / Flatiron Institute
  • Name: Željko Ivezić (Co-Chair)
    Location: University of Washington / Rubin Observatory
  • Name: Dalya Baron
    Location: (Tel Aviv University until September 2022 / Carnegie Observatories from September 2022)
  • Name: Marc Huertas-Company
    Location: (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias / Observatoire de Paris)
  • Name: Francisco Antonio Villaescusa Navarro
    Location: Flatiron Institute / Princeton University
  • Name: Guy Consolmagno, S.J. (Director)
    Location: Vatican Observatory
  • Name: Alessandro Omizzolo (Dean)
    Location: Vatican Observatory

Register

Applications for the 2025 Summer School in Castel Gandolfo, Italy will be open in the fall of 2024.

Exploring the Universe with JWST – The First Three Years

Since the first release of data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in July 2022, we have witnessed a transformation in astronomy. VOSS 2025 will present a comprehensive overview of the major JWST results in its first three years (2022-2025), covering the four major scientific themes of JWST:

(1) First Light and Reionization
(2) Assembly and Evolution of Galaxies
(3) Birth of Stars and Protoplanetary systems
(4) Planetary Systems and the Origin of Life

In parallel, we will also provide a series of hands-on tutorials for JWST data processing and analysis. VOSS 2025 will convey the excitement of astronomical research in the era of JWST and the skills to pursue research projects spanning a broad range of themes in astrophysics.

Faculty

Eiichi Egami (Chair)
University of Arizona, US; JWST/NIRCam team

Guy Consolmagno, S.J. (Director)
Vatican Observatory

David Brown (Dean)
Vatican Observatory

Roberto Maiolino
University of Cambridge, UK; JWST/NIRSpec team

Almudena Alonso-Herrero
Centro de Astrobiología, ES; JWST/MIRI team

Maria Drozdovskaya
Physikalisch-Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos und Weltstrahlungszentrum – PMOD/WRC, CH

Tom Greene
NASA Ames Research Center, US; JWST/NIRCam and MIRI teams

Contact

Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J.

Director

Specola Vaticana

V-00120 Vatican City State

Fax
+39 06 69884671

FAQs

The summer school is open to undergraduate and graduate students. We prefer students who at the time of the school will be in their last year of undergraduate studies or in their first year of graduate studies.

YES! Students of the Vatican Observatory Summer School come from all over the world. For the 2016 VOSS, our 23 students represented 19 different countries.

No. VOSS is open to aspiring astronomers of every faith, including nonbelievers.

Unfortunately, no. The school is limited to 25 students, and we receive many more applications than that. After the application deadline has passed, we will review the completed applications and choose students.

We notify students in mid-December.

Everything will be taught in English, the international scientific language. This is an excellent opportunity for students from non-English-speaking countries to practice working in English.

We hold the summer school at the headquarters of the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo, Italy. Our headquarters is located in the beautiful pontifical villas.

No. Very few of our students know more than one or two words of Italian. We are near Rome, where they are accustomed to tourists from many countries.

We arrange for students to stay together at a nearby hotel, Villa Altieri, in Albano Laziale. It is less than a 5-minute walk from the door of the Vatican Observatory.

There is no tuition. Students will be expected to pay for airfare, hotel and meal expenses. The hotel (including breakfast) for 30 days will cost about €1000.

For students with difficulty paying, we can provide scholarship support of 50-75% of expenses, at the discretion of the director. Please include a request for support in your application for the school. We will not make any decisions about financial aid until after the students have been selected. Financial need will not affect our decision of who is admitted to the summer school.

This depends on your country of origin. If you need visa assistance, we can try to help you after students are selected.