VO News: Grant, Awards, VATT, Outreach and More!

Fall is upon us, and we have a lot of updates for you! This newsletter is filled with news about Vatican Observatory outreach efforts, and decisions we have had to make in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In This Issue:

  • John Templeton Foundation Grant
  • 2021 VO Calendars Available
  • September Full Moon Zoom Meetup
  • Reopening the VATT – Fr. Paul Gabor
  • FAW Postponed (and renamed)
  • Summer School 2021 Postponed
  • VOF Ambassador Program
  • Astronomy at the Beach Online
  • International Observe the Moon Night
  • Popular Posts on the Sacred Space Astronomy Site
  • Featured Faith and Science Site Article
  • Latest Publications

John Templeton Foundation Grant

In August the Vatican Observatory Foundation began a year-long project to upgrade our online presence. We hope to make more of our resources available to more visitors, more effectively. This project is made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, which also supported the initial development of our websites. We described the project to the Templeton Foundation this way:

“Since its founding in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, the Vatican Observatory has had scores of astronomers and other researchers on its staff, produced hundreds of scientific publications, worked on every continent, and continued to collaborate with leading scientists. Yet the most significant work of the Vatican Observatory is in the dialogue between Faith and Science. What can Science help us to understand about our Faith, even about our God? What can Faith help us to understand about Science? And how can this dialogue and mutual search for understanding take place in terms common to both? “The Vatican Observatory Foundation (VOF) was established in 1986 to help the Observatory continue its scholarly research and to reach out to the public with its message of Faith and Science in dialogue. With the support of the John Templeton Foundation, the VOF has taken steps to build an extensive online platform of resources. There is an archive, Faith and Science, and an active online journal, Sacred Space Astronomy, with articles posted daily on astronomy, including education and engagement activities, the societal impact of astronomy, and especially the many connections between faith and astronomy.  “The online platforms of the VOF have developed rapidly and experienced growing pains. It is a challenge to keep up with a changing visitorship who are increasingly mobile and savvy about interactive engagement. Platforms need to be analyzed and new strategies developed to put these to the most effective use. This project involves first studying who the visitors are, what draws them, and why they come to the VOF online. Then comes the restructuring of the existing platforms for more effective and wider interactions. In the end the goal is to fulfill the mission the Vatican Observatory received 130 years ago, by generating more awareness of the important scientific work being done by the Vatican Observatory and dispelling misconceptions regarding the co-existence of Faith and Science.”
So keep an eye out for changes in the next year! Spread the word about the Vatican Observatory! And if you have any feedback on our online presence, contact us at the VOF Business Email.

The Templeton Foundation awards the annual Templeton Prize – honoring “individuals whoseexemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s philanthropic vision: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” The Vatican Observatory’s adjunct scholar Fr. Michael Heller won this prestigious award in 2008.
Friends of the Vatican Observatory Foundation have been invited to attend this year’s online award ceremony for Dr. Francis Collins of the NIH!

Click here for directions on how to register and attend!

The Official 2021 Calendar of the Vatican Observatory is now Available!

Enroll in the Guild and get your 2021 Calendar

The Vatican Observatory calendars have been a tradition since the year 2000!
Each month, the Calendar features a beautiful photograph of the heavens by some of the leading astrophotographers from around the world.
For 21 years, the Vatican Observatory Guild has helped to support and promote our work through the distribution of the Official Calendar of the Vatican Observatory. Each contribution of $25 or more entitles a Member of the Guild to receive or give a copy of the 2021 Calendar.

2020 Vatican Observatory Calendar Online

Did you know that the VO 2020 Calendar has an online version that can be viewed at our main website? Along with the same photos as the printed calendar, the online version has detailed information and links to all the daily items mentioned in the calendars.

View the VO 2020 Calendar Online

September Full Moon Zoom Meetup

Join us for our next scheduled Full Moon Meetup!

Tue. Sept. 1st @ 10:00 AM Tucson time (1:00 PM EDT).

A new tradition of ours where Sacred Space Astronomy members have the opportunity to meet with Vatican Observatory staff during online sessions – held when the Moon is Full in Tucson. These meetups have been a lot of fun and very informative!

Our fourth meetup will feature Fr. Rich Boyle SJ who will talk about his work at the VATT – from characterizing whole clusters of stars, to discovering Kuiper belt Objects. And he’ll tell us the secret of how he puts together the schedule every semester for who gets to use the telescope, and when.

Reopening the VATT

In the first observing semester of 2020 (February – July) we lost a significant amount of time. First, all activity on the mountaintop was suspended due to COVID-19 from March 20 – May 27. We opened again with Fr. Richard Boyle as the VATT operator and observer (May 28 – June 9). On June 12 we started this year’s VATT-PEPSI-TESS campaign. Unfortunately, wild-fire smoke and ash, mainly coming from the Bighorn Fire (120,000 acres), made us keep the dome closed, costing us eight more nights. On July 13, we entered the summer shutdown, which is a common practice in southern Arizona primarily due to the lightning risk during the monsoon season. It is also a time dedicated to various projects, especially those incompatible with science operations.

Safety of our personnel and of visiting scholars is paramount. Under normal circumstances, safety on Mt Graham, which is a remote site, calls for a sufficient presence of trained personnel capable of dealing with emergencies, including medical evacuations. On the other hand, the pandemic dictates limiting our numbers on site in order to minimize contact. Our COVID-19 protocols for Mt Graham are a compromise between these two opposing considerations. In practice this means that only one person can be staying at the VATT at any given time, provided that there is sufficient presence of qualified personnel in the other buildings at the summit.

The protocols introduced in May are still in force, imposing severe restrictions on our on-site activity. We are carrying out only those projects which can be safely conducted by a single person with limited assistance. Here are two examples. Chris Johnson installed new optical fibers, mainly connecting the instrument room and the dome. Michael Franz reviewed various equipment and supplies stored at the facility, identifying items to be recycled or surplussed. The photograph is a “still life” of these items in the VATT’s loading dock. Gary Grey provided assistance while observing health precautions.
Richard Boyle has assembled the fall schedule bearing in mind the limited number of observers approved for solo runs. The first observing run of the new semester will start, weather permitting, in early September.
-Fr. Paul Gabor

FAW 2021 Postponed (and to be renamed)

The beginning of September is when we would normally start soliciting applications to our Faith and Astronomy Workshop for Catholic pastors and educators, but (as we are sick of hearing) nothing is normal this year. For two reasons, we have decided to postpone the workshop until January 2022 (with applications open in September 2021).

The first reason, the uncertainty of travel this year, is obvious. But the second reason is that, as we describe below, the biennial Vatican Observatory Summer Schools have also been postponed a year. We need to run these two programs during alternating years; otherwise we’d be trying to organize them both at the same time!

And since we’re postponing the workshop, this looks like a good moment to come up with a better name: one that describes what the workshop is actually trying to accomplish. The old name implied that we were focusing on faith in the context of astronomy, but actually what the workshop does is immerse teachers and pastors into the world of astronomy… astronomy in the context of faith, you might say.

After some discussion, we came up with “Astronomy for Catholic Educators” which has the added benefit of a nice acronym, ACE. But then Justin pointed out that it’s not just educators but parish priests and other faith ministers who are invited. So our second try was “Astronomy for Catholics in Ministry and Education” with the acronym ACME.

At this point, Bob Trembly broke out laughing… “All I can think of is the coyote and roadrunner!” 

At that point, I mentioned to Bob that I see coyotes in our neighborhood all the time during my morning walks; and Justin chimed in with noting that he sees roadrunners during his daily runs. This is, after all, the setting for those famous cartoons.

So, which name do you prefer? ACE or ACME? Let us know!

Summer School 2021 Postponed

Earlier this year, we reported that the biennial Vatican Observatory Summer School scheduled to occur this summer had to be postponed until the summer of 2021. 

Fortunately, Italy is in much better shape now with regard to the spread of the coronavirus, and so we are confident that having this school in 2021 should be possible. Of course we continue to “monitor the situation.” (We got a bit of criticism back in February when we decided early on to postpone the school, but sadly our caution then was proved to be well founded.)

All the students who were admitted to the 2020 school have been invited to join us in 2021 instead, where we will spend four weeks in Castel Gandolfo exploring the topic of the “Centres of Galaxies: Theory Meets Observations.” (The international team of instructors is headed by Prof. Witold Maciejewski of Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, so he gets to choose the UK spelling!)

This school is the first one to be supported entirely by the Vatican Observatory Foundation!

Your donations are essential to make it happen. It costs us about $3,000 per student to bring them to Rome, house and feed them, and provide the academic support to run the summer school. We’re happy to say that we had already reached nearly half our budgeted needs before the school was suspended, but now we need to ask again for your support so that we can be ready to make the hotel and plane reservations in early 2021. 

How do you to donate? Go to the VOF’s “One-Time Donation” page and indicate “VOSS 2021” in the “comments” box.

Image Credit: NRAO, Cal Tech, Walter Jaffe/Leiden Observatory, Holland Ford/JHU/STScI, and NASA

Former Vatican Observatory Summer School Attendee Awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for Outstanding Public Outreach

An alumnus of the 1993 Vatican Observatory Summer Schools, Dr. Ray Jayawardhana, has recently been awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for outstanding public outreach from the American Astronomical Society, Division for Planetary Science (DPS)!

His citation reads:

The DPS awards the 2020 Carl Sagan Medal to Dr. Ray Jayawardhana (Cornell University) for outstanding contributions to the dissemination of planetary science research to the general public. Ray (aka RayJay) has published four popular books to widespread acclaim, one of which was the basis for an hourlong CBC TV documentary. His most recent book, Child of the Universe, is aimed at kids and builds on the legacy of Carl Sagan by revealing our deep and enduring links with the cosmos. Over three decades, Ray has written frequently for many prestigious and widely read publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and Science. While reaching out to the general public, Ray has remained a highly published and cited scientist and has been honored repeatedly for his research accomplishments.

Ray, a native of Sri Lanka, taught at York University in Canada for many years before recently taking on the position of Dean of Arts and Sciences at Cornell.

Photo Credit: Cornell University File Photo
Ray’s fellow students at the 1993 Vatican Observatory Summer School included Vatican Observatory director emeritus Fr. José Funes SJ, our current director Br. Guy, and also Dr. Heino Falcke, who made the news last year as one of the principle scientists on the famous microwave Black Hole image. This Sacred Space Astronomy article talks about Dr. Falcke’s work… and mentions another familiar name!

VOF Ambassador Program

Even as the Covid-19 virus has eliminated for the moment any opportunities for public gatherings, the day will come (we hope soon!) when once again representatives of the Vatican Observatory will be able to answer invitations to come and speak before schools and parish audiences. In preparation for that time, VOF board members Pamela Snyder and Jim Renn have moved forward in developing the new positions of Vatican Observatory Foundation: Ambassadors.

Modeled on the successful volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program, these ambassadors will be enthusiastic supporters of our work who will be trained to “proclaim the heavens” to schools and parishes in their community. Potential ambassadors go through a rigorous screening process; they must complete the safety training required for anyone working with minors, and their work must be approved by their local diocese. The Ambassador program provides special resources including access to the Vatican astronomers and sample talks that can be used to develop a well-informed outreach to their local communities.

So far there are seven approved ambassadors, counting Pamela and Jim. Two of them, Fr. Juan Pablo Marrufo del Toro SJ and Deacon Joe Stickney, are also ambassador consultants. The other three are Fr. Tim Martinez, Mr. Joel Hopko, and Mr. Liam Finn. The dioceses represented so far are Phoenix, Tucson, and Santa Fe. 

At the moment the program is still an experiment; once we have experience seeing what needs to be developed, we will be putting out a call for more ambassadors. If you are interested, stay tuned! 

Astronomy at the Beach – Sept. 25 & 26 – Online!

Michigan’s largest FREE astronomy event will transition to an online format this year… and this year it features several speakers well-known to followers of the Vatican Observatory Foundation!

The public is invited to see live talks from real astronomers, cool science demonstrations and live telescope views. This is a fun and educational STEM experience for all ages!

Real Astronomers:

●    David Levy “Poetry of the Night: How the Night Sky Enriches Literature Through the Ages” – Co-discoverer of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9, which collided with the planet Jupiter, and regular contributor to the Foundation’s Sacred Space Astronomy site!

●    Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ and Dan Davis, co-authors of the book “Turn Left at Orion.” 

●    Dolores Hill – “OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Mission is a GO for TAG: Final Update Before Sample Collection” – “Meteorite Specialist at University of Arizona, and speaker at the 2020 Vatican Observatory Foundation seminar!

Cool Science Demonstrations:

· “Scale Model of the Solar System” – Mike Bruno of the Ford Amateur Astronomy Club

· “Rocket Launch Photography” – John McGill of the Ford Amateur Astronomy Club

· “Live Sky: Astronomy Trivia” – Jeff Stark of the Flint Longway Planetarium

· “Teaching Astronomy to Children” – a panel of teachers who teach astronomy

· “Star-Hopping with the Free Stellarium Program” – Adrian Bradley of Ann Arbor Lowbrows Club

· “Tour of the Solar System with the SpaceEngine Program” – Bob Trembley of the Warren Astronomical Society & Vatican Observatory Foundation!

· “Building and Launching Rockets in Kerbal Space Program” – Bob Trembley

· “Amazing Astronomy and Fantastic Physics” – Michigan Science Center

· And much more!

Live Telescope Views:

· See prominences on the surface of the Sun

· Zooming in on lunar craters and mountains

· Jupiter with its many cloud layers, Saturn’s amazing rings and Mars’ white polar cap

· Star clusters, nebulae, and far-away galaxies

The members of GLAAC have numerous suggestions for pre-recorded videos and online resources that they think you should know about. Many of these will make great STEM resources for teachers and students.

Visit the Astronomy at the Beach 2020 website

The Great Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs is comprised of 8 southeastern Michigan astronomy clubs who are passionate volunteers – GLAAC has hosted the Astronomy at the Beach event for 24 years! We look forward to a time when we can host this event in-person again, and get your eyes to the skies!

Visit NASA’s Observe the Moon Night site
Sept. 26th
International Observe the Moon Night is a time to come together with fellow Moon enthusiasts and curious people worldwide. Everyone on Earth is invited to learn about lunar science and exploration, take part in celestial observations, and honor cultural and personal connections to the Moon. Note that we encourage you to interpret “observe” broadly.

Popular Posts on Sacred Space Astronomy

Talking to Your Dog… or to E.T.
Chris Graney

Extraterrestrials! They are an idea from science whose impact on popular culture has been huge. Think of those big movie franchises that involve beings from other worlds: Marvel, Star Wars, Star Trek, and more.

Extraterrestrials have not always been popular. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher from before Christ, reasoned that Earth is the only world that exists. No other worlds. No extraterrestrials… [Read More]
Sleepless in Wisconsin: My Comet Neowise Images
Fr. James Kurzynski

Fr. James shares several of his ceautiful astrophotos of comet NEOWISE, and discusses star-tracking with his telescope. [Read More]

Featured Faith and Science Archive Article

Vatican II – Joseph Ratzinger on The Christian and the Technological World
An excerpt from the 1966 Theological Highlights of Vatican II, by Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI):

The objectivity of science is much more in line with the idea of creation than a false divinization of the world which science and faith equally reject…. The scientific view of the world, which presupposes both the world’s non-divinity and its logical and comprehensible structure, is profoundly in accord with the view of the world as created (and thus non-divine): the world as produced by the Logos, God’s Spirit-filled Word. Thus, like the Logos, the world is rationally and spiritually structured. One might even say that only such a basic attitude makes natural science possible in its full scope.”
Read the Full Article on the VOF’s Faith and Science Site

Latest Publications

R. Boyle and R. Janusz: V. Straižys et al., “Open Cluster IC 1369 and Its Vicinity: Multicolor Photometry and Gaia DR2 Astrometry”. The Astronomical Journal, 159, 95 https://doi.org/10.3847/1538-3881/ab67b5

C. J. Corbally: S. J. Murphy et al., “The Discovery of lambda Bootis Stars – The Southern Survey II.” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/staa2347Margaret Boone Rappaport, et al., “Neuroplasticity as a Foundation for Human Enhancements in Space.” Acta Astronautica 175, 438 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actaastro.2020.06.011

P. Gabor: A. Gibbs et al, “EDEN: Sensitivity Analysis and Transiting Planet Detection Limits for Nearby Late Red Dwarfs.” The Astronomical Journal, 159 https://doi.org/10.3847/1538-3881/ab7926

G. Gionti: “The Beginning of the Universe and the Question of God.” La Civiltà Cattolica, 3 March. https://www.laciviltacattolica.com/the-beginning-of-the-universe-and-the-question-of-god/

R. J. Macke: P. P. Povinec et al., “Radionuclides in Chassigny and Nakhla meteorites of Mars origin: Implications for their pre-atmospheric sizes and cosmic-ray exposure ages” Planetary and Space Science, 186; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pss.2020.104914; G. J. Flynn et. al.,“Hypervelocity cratering and disruption of the Northwest Africa 4502 carbonaceous chondrite meteorite: Implications for crater production, catastrophic disruption, momentum transfer and dust production on asteroids” Planetary and Space Science, 187, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pss.2020.104916; A. M. Ruzicka et al., “Shock compaction heating and collisional processes in the production of type 3 ordinary chondrites: Lessons from the (nearly) unique L3 chondrite melt breccia Northwest Africa 8709.” Meteoritics & Planetary Science, in press.

R. J. Macke and G. J. Consolmagno.: C. P. Opeil. et al., “The surprising thermal properties of CM carbonaceous chondrites.” Meteoritics and Planetary Science, in press.

A. Omizzolo: R. Rampasso et al, “Morphology and surface photometry of a sample of isolated early-type galaxies from deep imaging” Astronomy and Astrophysics, in press.

Adjunct Scholars:

Francl, M.: “The invisible college”, Nature Chemistry, 12, 582-583; “A chemist’s cup of tea”, Nature Chemistry, 12, 319-320.

J. G. Funes: M. Lares, et al. “Monte Carlo estimation of the probability of causal contacts between communicating civilizations.” International Journal of Astrobiology. https://doi.org/10.1017/S147355042000018X

M. Heller: in L. Pysiak et al., “Functorial Differential Spaces and Infinitesimal Structure of Space-Time”, Reports on Mathematical Physics, 85 (3) 443-454.

D. Minniti: M. G. Navarro et al., “VVV Survey Microlensing: Candidate Events with Sources in the Far-Disk”, The Astrophysical Journal, in press; H. Ernandes, et al., “Cobalt and Copper abundances in 56 Galactic bulge red giants”, Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press (arXiv:2007.00397E)  J. F. C. Santos et al., “The VISCACHA survey – II. Structure of star clusters in the Magellanic Clouds periphery”, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in press (arXiv:2008.04399S)  J. H. Minniti et al., ”Using Classical Cepheids to study the far side of the Milky Way’s disk. I. Spectroscopic classification and the metallicity gradient”, Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press (arXiv:2007.03122)  M. Lombart et al., “VLT/SPHERE survey for exoplanets around young, early-type stars including systems with multi-belt architectures”, Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press (arXiv:2005.08850)  V. D. Ivanov et al., “Qualitative classification of extraterrestrial civilizations”, Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press (arXiv:2005.13221)

G. Tanzella-Nitti: “Unità del sapere e transdisciplinarità. Per una lettura della ‘Veritatis gaudium’ ”, L’ Osservatore Romano 11 marzo.

Visit The VOF’s Websites

Our Main Site has information about the Foundation: our mission, board, president’s message, VOF news, and more!
Our Faith and Science Archive has hundreds of articles, videos, and audio files on the topic of Faith and Science, for the use of Catholic educators and Catholics seeking education – produced by members of the Vatican Observatory with the support of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.
Our Sacred Space Astronomy Site has several authors writing about a wide range of faith and science related topics.

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