Director of the Vatican Observatory pays visit to UCLan

22 October 2018

Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ spoke with students and took a trip to the Alston Observatory

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) had a very welcome visit from a member of the Vatican Observatory – La Specola Vaticana earlier this month.

Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, the director of the Vatican Observatory located at Castel Gandolfo in Rome, spoke with PhD and Research Masters students in astronomy, physics and maths, before heading to the Alston Observatory.

The visit was organised by Shirley Russo of the Study Abroad Team with a view to future areas of cooperation between UCLan and the Vatican Observatory.

While in Preston to give a talk organised by St Wilfrid’s church and the Xaverian Missionaries on his role at the observatory, titled “Adventures of a Vatican Astronomer”, Br. Consolmagno SJ also met with key staff from the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute, Director Professor Derek Ward-Thompson and Dr Mark Norris.

He is a Jesuit Brother, scientist and astronomer, and his work at the Vatican Observatory is in the area of astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Catholic Church particularly in the areas of asteroids and meteorites.

Br. Consolmagno's SJ work has taken him to every continent in the world. In 1996 for example, he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with a NASA team on the blue ice regions of East Antarctica. He even had an asteroid named after him in 2000 by the Small Bodies Nomenclature committee of the International Astronomical Union called 4597 Consolmagno.

"The students were absolutely delighted to meet someone from such an esteemed background, and it’s an honour that he came here"

After visiting the Alston Observatory, he was very impressed with the work that UCLan staff and students are carrying out, as well as features like the recently acquired Moses Holden Telescope (MHT) and the Discovery Dome Planetarium.

The MHT is the UK’s largest operational undergraduate teaching telescope and cost around £250,000. He was subsequently shown some results from it, including images of galaxies, a distant supernova, a jet from a black hole in an active galaxy, and a detection of a planet around another star.

Br. Consolmagno SJ said: “I have seen many similar university observatories in the United States, but I have never come across one that is as productive as this.”

Professor Ward-Thompson believes his trip will be enormous for the University, in terms of creating an impact on the students, as well as the honour of having such an important visitor taking the time to visit and see some of UCLan’s projects.

He commented: “It was fantastic to receive such a respected visitor to Alston Observatory.

“The students were absolutely delighted to meet someone from such an esteemed background, and it’s an honour that he came here.

“The symbolism of visit, the background that he came from and the prestige that all carries cannot be underestimated.”

* Top banner photo shows Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, the director of the Vatican Observatory, watched by, L-R, Jeremiah Horrocks Institute Director Professor Derek Ward-Thompson, astronomy academic Dr Mark Norris and trip organiser Shirley Russo.