carolf (carolf) wrote,

Psst - Maiac, look here!

or just how wrong can the "Pope dismantles Vatican observatory" article be?

[WHY are the "lj" commands not translating properly?  This time I carefully cut/pasted from the FAQ!]

<lj user="maiac"> posted <a href="">here</a> about a rumor, evidently originating with an article in the "Independent" about how religion vs science seems to be winning under the current Pope.

Brother Guy Consolmagno, billed as "astronomer to the Pope," gave me permission to share this information, from a draft article intended for near-future publication, here in LJ. 

Bottom line:  there is no fire here, just a lot of smoke and mirrors.  As an interesting aside, Brother Guy noted that the two cons (amids all the pros) of the move when it was under consideration were 1) the loss of the symbology of the Gandolfo location and 2) the fear that some uninformed types would (mis)construe the move precisely in this way.

<lj-cut text="His basic points are behind the cut">

1. Yes, the observatory is moving from Castle Gandolfo (Vatican summer palace) to new digs on the palace grounds.  This is generally considered to be a Good Thing.

2. This is not the first time the observatory has moved.  It moved to Rome to protect it from the anti-vatican forces unifying Italy in 1891.  It moved out of Rome to the summer palace in 1929, to avoid light pollution from the city (and to populate the palace in the winter.)  By 1950, the light pollution had reached Gandolfo, so the bulk of the business end of the observatory moved to Tucson, Arizona, with a low number (2) of brothers left to man the fort -- er -- palace in the winter, and using the palace for summer schools and conferences.

3. The part remaining in the palace pretty much consists of libraries, a museum of astronomical equipment over the centuries, and other such odds and ends, scattered through 6 floors, in non-contiguous rooms.  The wiring in the 400-year-old building is, well, "interesting" comes to mind much faster than anything approaching "useful."  If you forget something in your office on the first floor while using a library room on the 6th, you do the requisite mountaineering.  If you're not sure in which library room a particular resource is shelved (and/or boxed) you add mining to the climbing.  Winters are cold, summers are hot (although better than in Tucson ...)  As a result, the Order (Jesuits, to whom the observatory is entrusted) has been discussing a move for the last 20 years or so.

4. With the internet, cheap computer storage, and a boom of astronomy in Europe , not to mention other places  -- the US has not been alone in this science for quite a while! -- bringing more of the activities back to Europe became both reasonable and appealing.  Not to mention that they hope to add as many as 5 new staff in the next 2 years, and they already don't have enough room where they are.

5. This matter was seriously discussed at a conference in 2002.  (Before the current Pope.) The Vatican gave its approval for the move in 2006, and the Jesuits announced the move in a press release in March of 2007.  (So this bru-ha-ha isn't even current, let alone correct.)

6. Far from "dismantling" the activities, the Vatican is lending both philosophical and financial -- to the tune of $1M Euro/year -- support.  The telescopes on the roof of the palace will remain, and the observatory will continue its use of the Palace for at least a few years.  It will take that long to refurbish their future home, and move 80 years worth of accumulation.  As Brother Guy put it "nothing moves fast in the Vatican."

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