A trinity of new videos about the Vatican Observatory is available on YouTube! In these videos produced by Brady Haran and James Hennessy, Brother Guy Consolmagno shows you some of the Vatican Observatory’s more notable meteorites, various items in the Vatican Observatory’s Museum, and gives you a tour of the Vatican Observatory’s historic telescopes. In an interview, Br. Guy answers numerous questions about faith and science, and discusses the role of the Vatican Observatory.
The Pope’s Space Rocks
(YouTube:Objectivity #221 – 10:55)
Brother Guy Consolmagno gives Brady Haran a tour of the Vatican Observatory; he shows meteorites from the Vatican Observatory’s collection, and tells some interesting stories behind a few of them. He shows a remarkable antique clock from the end of the 1800s – its pendulum filled with Mercury! Br. Guy also shows the Vatican flag that flew to the Moon on Apollo 17!
Before the advent of digital imaging technology, astronomical imaging was done using photographic plates; Br. Guy shows a room filled with historic photographic plates taken by Vatican telescopes – including antique plates from the historic Carte du Ciel sky survey of the late 19th century!
The Pope’s Telescopes
(YouTube: Deep Sky Videos – 22:31)
Brother Guy Consolmagno gives Brady Haran a tour of Castel Ganfolfo and the Vatican Observatory; watch as Br. Guy fires up the vintage 1930s drive hardware for the Zeiss Double Astrograph Telescope – the telescope used to make the photographic plates seen in “The Pope’s Space Rocks” video above. Next, the tour takes you to the second dome, currently under repairs – the refractor telescope in this dome has a 16 inch lens!
The tour continues with a drive through the Papal gardens to the Carte du Ciel and Schmidt telescopes – Br. Guy shows the not-so-vintage Xbox controller that can be used to control the recently upgraded drive hardware of the still very functional 1891 Carte du Ciel telescope!
Next up, the Schmidt telescope, which could be used to photograph the spectra of a large region of stars. This telescope is the location where Pope Paul VI watched the Apollo 11 Moon landings, and recorded a congratulatory message to the astronauts. Br. Guy explains how Pope Pius XII loved astronomy and paid for the Schmidt telescope with his personal family fortune!
Br. Guy explains how advancements in mirror technology led to the creation of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope on Mt. Graham in Arizona.
The Pope’s Astronomer
(YouTube:Sixty Symbols – 36:10)
Brady Haran, interviews Brother Guy Consolmagno and delves into the background of the Vatican Observatory. Br. Guy starts by explaining how he is the only astronomer who is directly appointed by the Pope. He goes on to say:
“Astronomy is the kind of thing you can’t make a living at without a patron”
… which honestly made me laugh out loud because this is exactly my situation with the Vatican Observatory Foundation!
Br. Guy talks about the three Popes that he has served under, and their backgrounds in various fields of science. He tackles the question of “Why is there a Vatican Observatory,” and explains that having a national observatory was one way for the Vatican to be recognized as an independent nation.
Br. Guy explains how the Jesuits of the Vatican Observatory operate in the boundary of the communities of theologians and scientists, and under John Paul II’s insistence, the Vatican Observatory started a series of conferences on the nature of divine action in the physical universe. Br. Guy explains how the Vatican Observatory started a collaboration with Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in California, and published some deep theological books that are still being referenced.
Br. Guy tackles numerous questions about various aspects of faith and science – a couple times making me laugh pretty hard; he also talks the history of Galileo and other world events happening during that time period. He discusses the creation story of Genesis in the Bible, the conclusion of that story being the seventh day – a day of rest and a time for contemplation.
In the final segments, Br. Guy discusses some of the modern meteorite and astronomical research being done by the Vatican Observatory, and his desires for the Vatican Observatory to be “a place where people want to come to work – where people are happy doing the science they are doing, and excited to get up in the morning and go to the lab.”
See these and other videos about the Vatican Observatory on the Vatican Observatory Foundation’s YouTube channel: