Skip to comments.Papal astronomer wins recognition for excellence in communication
Posted on 07/15/2014 2:33:53 PM PDT by NYer
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A papal astronomer won recognition for his ability to communicate accurately and clearly the discoveries of planetary science to the general public.
U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, a planetary scientist and meteorite expert at the Vatican Observatory, was awarded the prestigious Carl Sagan Medal for "outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist," said the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences, which chooses the annual prize winner.
In addition to significantly contributing to the public understanding of and enthusiasm for planetary science, Brother Consolmagno "occupies a unique position within our profession as a credible spokesperson for scientific honesty within the context of religious belief," the division said in a press release July 2.
Through his many books, public lectures, interviews and multimedia presence, Brother Consolmagno "has become the voice of the juxtaposition of planetary science and astronomy with Christian belief, a rational spokesperson who can convey exceptionally well how religion and science can coexist for believers," it said.
A native of Detroit and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Jesuit astronomer has been at the Vatican Observatory since 1993, where he is now coordinator for public relations.
He credits his communication skills, in part, to his family lineage of Vaudeville entertainers.
"At heart I am a storyteller," he told Catholic News Service by email July 15. "I learned that from my father and he learned storytelling from his uncles, who were in Vaudeville a hundred years ago.
"So when I present science, I look for the story to tell. What is the setting, who are the characters, what's the challenge, where is the climactic moment when the insight changes the way we look at ourselves and our universe? The story of the universe is the story science tells; so I tell it as a story," he told CNS.
Brother Consolmagno said he can "read an audience" and tries to "play out the suspense just far enough" to keep people hooked and to hit the highlights with humor.
"I am not trying to get folks to remember facts, but instead I am trying to get across a way of looking at the universe," and help people see a new point of view, he said.
He said being a Jesuit "has made all the difference" in being able to communicate his Catholic faith in the public forum.
"I can concentrate on communicating my passion for my science and let my collar do the rest of the talking for me. It has been one of the greatest blessings of my vocation," he said in the email.
In the church's mission to better communicate that it is not opposed to science, but embraces it as an important human endeavor to understand God's creation, Brother Consolmagno encouraged all Catholic scientists and engineers to talk about their work in their parish communities.
"Often it is the religious folk who need the most to hear about how God reveals himself through science," he said. "I would encourage people of faith to be public about their science among their fellow parishioners -- talk about your research, start astronomy or computer clubs with young people or retirees.
"Show them that our religion does not tell us what 'facts' we can believe, but rather our religion gives us the reason why we go looking to try to understand those facts," he said.
After earning degrees in planetary science, Brother Consolmagno was a post-doctorate lecturer at Harvard College Observatory and at M.I.T. before serving in the U.S. Peace Corps in Kenya where he taught physics and astronomy. He entered the Jesuit order in 1989 when he was in his late 30s.
His research focuses on meteorites, asteroids and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system.
He was honored for his work by the International Astronomical Union in 2000 with the naming of an asteroid after him, the "4597 Consolmagno," a small, 12-mile-wide rock orbiting near the sun.
The Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical institutes in the world. Papal interest in astronomy can be traced to Pope Gregory XIII who had the Tower of the Winds built in the Vatican in 1578 and later called on Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians to study the scientific data and implications involved in the reform of the calendar which occurred in 1582. From that time the Holy See has supported astronomical research. These early traditions climaxed in the mid 19th century with research conducted by Jesuit, Father Angelo Secchi, the first to classify stars according to their spectra. Pope Leo XIII in his Motu Proprio Ut Mysticam of 14 March 1891 formally refounded the Vatican Observatory and located it on a hillside behind the dome of St. Peters Basilica.
With urban growth brightening the skies at the beginning of the 1930s, Pope Pius XI provided a new location for the Observatory at Castel Gandolfo 35 km southeast of Rome.
It is here that the modern observatory, entrusted to the Jesuits, was refounded in the mid-1930s with the construction of three new telescopes, the installation of an astrophysical laboratory for spectrochemical analysis, and the expansion of several important research programs on variable stars. With the installation of a Schmidt wide-angle telescope in 1957 research was extended to other topics such as new techniques for the classification of stars according to their spectra. This is still an active program at the Observatory.
With the continuously increasing population of Rome the skies above the Observatory again became too bright. In 1981, for the first time in its history, the Observatory founded a second research center, the Vatican Observatory Research Group (VORG), in Tucson, Arizona, one of the worlds largest and most modern centers for observational astronomy.
The Observatory staff have offices at Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona where they also have access to all of the modern telescopes located in the Tucson area. In 1993 the Observatory, in collaboration with Steward Observatory, completed the construction of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope ( VATT ) on Mt. Graham, Arizona, probably the best astronomical site in the continental United States. This is the first optical-infrared telescope of the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO), a project which in the coming years will see the construction of some of the worlds most sophisticated and largest telescopes.
The library at Castel Gandolfo contains more than 22,000 volumes and possesses a valuable collection of rare antique books including works of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Brahe, Clavius, and Secchi. In addition there is a unique meteorite collection from which a knowledge of the early history of the solar system is being derived. Research results are published in international journals.
Brother Consolmagno is great. He has talks up on Youtube and they are well worth listening to.
“Very soon the nations will look to aliens for their salvation?”
They are excellent! I used one of these while working with my Confirmation students. We had a lot of fun exploring deep space, as well as the depths of the ocean. The focus was on the Nicene Creed: "of all things visible and invisible". In exploring both universes, they came across some truly amazing things. Bioluminescence, fish in the darkest recesses of the oceans that use light to attract their prey or issue warnings. There are also things they didnt correction couldnt see, like Dark Energy, for example. According to NASA, more is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe's expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest - everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. When it comes to the oceans, we know only 3%.
Who doesn't love a mystery?! Man tries to rise to the level of God. Ultimately, man cannot create something from nothing. We are surrounded by an amazing universe ... why not sit back, probe its depths and simply be amazed.
> was awarded the prestigious Carl Sagan Medal for “outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist,” said the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, which chooses the annual prize winner.
So much for what’s his name’s reboot of “Cosmos”.
Oh great, just great. Because this isn't a literature prize, it's a science prize. So stories are exactly what we want to hear about science, right?
Well, after all, he's a Jesuit. And a Jesuit's gonna Jesuit.
Why do I feel like we're going to be hearing some stories about planetary science from Brother Guy in the near future?
Obama dedicates NASA to the needs of Muslims, and Jesuits take over astronomy.
Somewhere Galileo is under house arrest.
What a role model!
All the tools to watch the sky and still only use the sun to mark time with the pope gregory calender instead of all the tools He gave us to tell time?
And people of God studyng the sky with high tech stuff and still have to guess the birthday of the Messiah that was actually written in that sky, and confirmed in scripture?
And this gets awards...
It's the Carl Sagan Medal for "outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist,"
Not the Nobel Prize for Physics.
Give this priest a break. He's Jesuit, but his order's apostasy isn't evident in his work as presented here.
Thanks for these awesome reflections.
E=mc2 means that matter is energy and energy is matter. What we think of as matter is what affects the expansion of the universe because it has mass and a gravitational pull. What we think of as energy has no mass and therefore no gravity associated with it and cannot affect the expansion of the universe.
It turns out that roughly 68% of the universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%.
Does he explain how these numbers were determined?