Did you know that the Vatican has a science institute?
When the pope recently announced that he doesn’t see a conflict between evolution, the Big Bang and the teachings of the catholic church, some people reacted with surprise. It’s a lot less surprising when you realize that the Vatican has employed astronomers for centuries.
Dating back to at least the calendar reform of 1582, Vatican astronomers have studied the sky. These days they’ve got the calendar pretty much figured out, but they have enough work on their hands. They hold conferences and summer schools, study nearby galaxies, and – something that might seem surprising for an institute with religious ties – they search for extraterrestial life.
The Vatican Observatory has two locations: One is at the Pope’s summer residence Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, and the other one is at Mount Graham Observatory in Arizona. There is no longer an observatory in Vatican City itself, because Rome’s smog and city lights interfere with the view.
Visiting the observatories is not straightforward. The location at Castel Gandolfo does not have regular tours, and is inaccessible when the pope is using his summer home. The Arizona site can be visited as part of an organised tour, but only on particular days.