Vatican Appoints New Chief Astronomer

No doubt buried under the news related to the Pope’s recent Western Hemisphere travel the Vatican Observatory announced a new Chief Astronomer (H/T ScienceInsider).  Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, takes over from Father José Funes who ends his second five-year term.  Father Funes is also a Jesuit and an Argentinian like Pope Francis.  His tenure leading the Observatory was marked by moving the Observatory to new headquarters, and a modernization of the Vatican’s telescope in Arizona

Consolmagno is American, and holds a Ph.D. in planetary science from the University of Arizona. He has served at the Observatory since 1993 and his research has focused on the relationship between meteorites, asteroids, and small solar system bodies.  There is an asteroid named for Brother Consolmagno, and he appeared on The Colbert Report back in 2009.

The Vatican Observatory was established in its current form by Pope Leo XIII in 1891.  However, papal interest in astronomy dates back to at least 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII consulted with astronomers to correct for errors in the Julian calendar that had been in use for more than 1500 years.  While observational research is conducted at the Vatican’s telescope in Arizona, the Observatory has collections of scientific works and instruments.  It also has a meteorite collection and laboratory which certainly influenced Brother Consolmagno to join the staff shortly after entering the Jesuit order in 1989.

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