Pope Blesses Observatory's New Home

Headquarters Symbolize Mission, Director Says

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI spent a leisurely hour with the Jesuit scientists who staff the Vatican Observatory, giving his papal blessing to their new headquarters, which the director says symbolize the observatory's mission.



The Pope blessed the new premises for the observatory on Wednesday. The new site, just over a mile from the previous location, is at the edge of the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, just at the beginning of the territory of Albano.

"In this place, I think I see almost a metaphor of the observatory's mission: In the Church, close to the Pope, but on the border with the world, open to dialogue with everyone, with those who believe and those who don't believe," Jesuit Father José Gabriel Funes, the observatory's director, explained in an interview today with L'Osservatore Romano.

The observatory's offices and library, as well as the conference room, the school and residence area of the Jesuit community, are now in the Basilian monastery in the historic Pia Square of Albano.
 
The new site also has accommodations for students and researchers. The collections of meteorites and other artifacts, such as ancient telescopes, have been moved to the new headquarters as well.

The observatory's move to the new premises -- the fourth in its history -- and that of the 15 scientists who staff it, is due to the growing number of visitors.

Looking forward

The observatory's two largest telescopes were left behind at the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo.
 
Also remaining are two other observation instruments of great historical value: the Schmidt and Carte du Ciel telescopes. This latter instrument will be restored and included in a future museum of astronomy which, it is hoped, will be opened in Castel Gandolfo.

In the short term, it will be one of the pieces of the exhibition "Astrum 2009," which the Vatican Museums will house from Oct. 15 to Jan. 16, in the context of the International Year of Astronomy. The display will exhibit the patrimony of astronomy in Italy since the time of Galileo.
 
Also on the occasion of the International Year of Astronomy, the Vatican Observatory and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences have organized a congress on astro-biology, which will be held Nov. 6-11. This will be a meeting of specialists to discuss the subject of the search for life in the universe.