The Vatican Has An Observatory, And It's Made Important Astronomical Discoveries

Albert Einstein once said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." There may be no better example of this sentiment than the Vatican Observatory—yes, that Vatican. It's among the oldest astronomical institutes in the world, but it's still making important contributions to this day. Who said religion and science don't mix?

Wise Men Following The Stars

Built in 1578, the Vatican Observatory has a long history of science-based achievements. In 1582, Italian scientist Aloysus Lilius used observations of the heavens to better align the Christian calendar with the seasons, creating the Gregorian calendar. In the 1800s, Father Angelo Secchi was the first to classify stars based on their spectra, a method of star classification still in use today.

In fact, Specola Vaticana, as the observatory is called, isn't even the only one established by the Vatican. The Papacy founded two others that each flourished for decades in the 18th and 19th centuries. But even the remaining observatory didn't last in its original location; Vatican City eventually became so bright that stars were hard to see, so the church moved the whole outfit to the Papal Summer Residence in Castel Gandolfo, 25 kilometers southeast of Rome.

Then, in the 1980s, they opened up a second branch to expand their research capabilities—in none other than Tucson, Arizona. Jumping continents is nothing new for the program, however. The observatory's work spans countries on almost every continent. Still, there's nothing like the original—the library at Castel Gandolfo, for example, is home to over 22,000 works, including those authored by the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, and Isaac Newton.

Pope Paul VI looking through the Castel Gandolfo observatory's Schmidt telescope.

More On The Event Horizon

Today, astronomers are working with the Vatican to make groundbreaking discoveries just as they did in the 1500s. Researchers study planets, stars, and galaxies as they try to answer some of the universe's most pressing questions. The observatory was a partner in the development and construction of some of the world's most advanced pieces of astronomical technology. They stress that their thirst for scientific discovery is no different than any other: "Like all astronomers," the observatory website reads, "our deepest desire is to be on the frontier of astronomical research; we share with our colleagues the same excitement in seeking answers to the fundamental questions about the universe."

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Written by Mike Epifani May 25, 2017

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