CITTA’ DEL VATICANO – Giovedì, 17 gennaio 2008 (Vatican Diplomacy). I gesuiti astronomi lasciano Castel Gandolfo. La comunità di religiosi che condivide il proprio osservatorio – con tanto di telescopio a cupola – con gli appartamenti estivi del Papa, sulle pendici del Lago Albano, dovrà infatti trasferirsi nel corso dell’anno.
Nel corso dell’anno, annuncia all”Osservatore Romano’ il cardinale Giovanni Lajolo, presidente del Governatorato della Città del Vaticano, “si attuerà il trasferimento della residenza dei religiosi gesuiti della Specola Vaticana e dei locali della loro scuola di astronomia”. L’osservatorio di Castel Gandolfo è una delle più antiche istituzioni di ricerca astronomiche del mondo. Il suo inizio si può far risalire al tempo in cui il papa Gregorio XIII istituì la commissione di studio che portò alla riforma del calendario, promulgata dallo stesso papa nel 1582. “Da allora – si legge sul sito internet della Specola – i papi non hanno cessato di manifestare interesse per la ricerca astronomica promuovendola nel modo migliore possibile”. Sulla base di questa tradizione e, soprattutto, per reagire alle accuse rivolte con insistenza in quei tempi alla Chiesa di essere nemica del progresso scientifico, il papa Leone XIII, nel 1891, rifondò la Specola Vaticana, collocando il suo primo telescopio sull’antica torre di Leone IV in Vaticano. Agli inizi degli anni ’30, a causa dell’inquinamento luminoso del cielo di Roma, si decise di trasferire la Specola nel Palazzo Pontificio di Castel Gandolfo, 25 km a sud di Roma.
Dopo alcune decine di anni, con l’aumento della popolazione di Roma e dintorni, crebbe anche l’inquinamento luminoso notturno al punto da rendere la sede di Castel Gandolfo non più adatta alle osservazioni. Fu così che nel 1981, per la prima volta nella sua storia, la Specola fondò un secondo centro di ricerca, detto Vatican Observatory Research Group, con sede negli Stati Uniti, a Tucson, Arizona.
Vatican astronomers to move to bigger, more modern facilities
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY – Dec.21, 2007 (CNS). — After more than half a century based at the papal palace in Castel Gandolfo, the Vatican’s astronomers will be moving to bigger, more modern facilities.
The astronomers’ new offices and residences still will be located on the grounds of the papal summer residence in the hill town of Castel Gandolfo, about 15 miles south of Rome, but they will be in a completely renovated convent nestled in the papal gardens.
“This is going to be a great improvement” for carrying out the astronomers’ work and studies and the new residences “will be a whole lot more comfortable,” said U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno.
Work has not yet begun on the new headquarters, so the relocation is not likely to occur before next fall, he said.
While the papal palace, where the observatory and two powerful telescopes are located, is “a beautiful, historical building” dating back to the 1500s, “it’s also freezing in the wintertime and too hot in the summer,” the Vatican astronomer told Catholic News Service Dec. 21.
The Jesuit community that works there can number up to 14 people in the summer months, but the facility only has one shower, he said.
Vatican officials had been considering moving the Jesuit astronomers out of the papal residence for several years, said a statement by the Jesuit curia earlier this year.
“The needs of papal quarters, where large crowds gather for audiences and where dignitaries visit the pope even in summer, are not easily combined with a residence for Jesuits engaged in study, teaching and research,” it said.
The Jesuits have been entrusted with the Vatican Observatory since 1935, when Pope Pius XI decided to move the observatory from the Tower of the Winds not far from the papal apartment in the Vatican to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
This newest plan to relocate within Castel Gandolfo had some speculating that Jesuit stargazers were being “kicked out,” as one Italian newspaper headline reported Dec. 20.
The Jesuits and Brother Consolmagno disagreed.
The Jesuit brother said the enormous effort the Vatican is putting into planning and renovating the new facilities is “a sign of just how much they’re supporting our continued presence here.”
The Jesuits said in their statement that giving the astronomers a new headquarters is “a confirmation of the importance attributed by the Holy Father to the work being carried out” by them.
The Vatican astronomers’ new facilities will cover two stories with residences on one floor and, on the bottom floor, brand new offices, laboratories, a museum, a library, a large classroom for their summer school program and additional space for the summer students’ use.
“We’re all pretty happy with the way they’ve planned things out,” Brother Consolmagno said.
He said after they move to their new quarters they will still have access to the two large telescopes located on the roof of the papal palace as well as access to some adjoining rooms and an office.
He said the telescopes are not used very often in the summer while the pope is there because “the nights are short,” giving astronomers reduced viewing time.
The Vatican Observatory’s Zeiss refractor telescope, built in 1935, also is getting ready for a face-lift.
Brother Consolmagno said in a Dec. 21 interview with the Orlando Sentinel newspaper in Florida that the Jesuit astronomers have invited Nate Lust, a recent astronomy graduate of the University of Central Florida, to help them see if he can rescue “some beautiful old telescopes with some cutting-edge technology.”
Lust was to head to Castel Gandolfo in January to see if an electric camera and other technology he developed can help tackle the problem of light pollution, which got so bad for the Vatican astronomers that they set up a second research center in 1981 in the desert of southern Arizona so they could carry out their observational work.
The Castel Gandolfo observatory