An Out-of-This-World Program, of Sorts

Young Astrophysicists Have a Summer School

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 30, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican Observatory of Astronomy and Astrophysics this summer will offer a unique opportunity for formation to young students of astrophysics.



The eighth Vatican Observatory Summer School in Observational Astronomy and Astrophysics will be based at Observatory headquarters in the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo from June 7 to July 13. It will focus on "Observations and Theoretical Understanding of Stellar Remnants: White Dwarfs, Neutron Stars and Black Holes."

Two lectures will be given each morning to the 26 scholars from 19 countries. Observatory staff and visiting professors will hold evening seminars. Students will present short papers on research.

Included in the curriculum are laboratory exercises using the Observatory computers, a "virtual observing" session using a telescope at the site of the Observatory´s Research Institute in Arizona, and field trips to sites of historical interest to astronomy.

The Observatory director, Jesuit Father George V. Coyne, said the summer school aims to help young people, at the beginning of their higher studies, to develop quality research careers, nourished by interchange on an international scale. The Observatory´s Jesuit community has provided scholarships to six students from developing countries who attended previous summer schools, and who intend to pursue graduate studies.

The Vatican Observatory goes back to the time of Pope Gregory XIII, who created a scientific commission to study the elements necessary to change the liturgical calendar, a change implemented in 1582.

In response to those who accused the Church of opposing science, in 1891 Pope Leo XIII formally founded the Specula Vaticana (Vatican Observatory), and established it on a hill behind St. Peter´s Basilica. The growth of the city of Rome and pollution made it necessary in the 1930s to move the Observatory to Castel Gandolfo, about 35 kilometers (21 miles) away.

Rome´s later expansion brought "light contaminiation" to the Observatory of Castel Gandolfo. As a result, a second research center was founded, the Vatican Observatory Research Group, in Tucson, Arizona.

The premises at Castel Gandolfo house the archives and library -- more than 22,000 works, including the originals of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Brahe, Clavius and Secchi. A meteor collection is used to study the history of the solar system. Results of the scientific research are published in specialized journals.

The Observatory also publishes "Studi Galileiani" (Galilean Studies), a series of articles on controversies centered on Galileo and Copernicus.

The Vatican Observatory receives annual funding from the Holy See. The Vatican Observatory Foundation, a tax-free institution, also has been established to obtain private funding for special projects.