By Michael P Foley
The Vatican Observatory, one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world, has its headquarters at the Pope's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome, and also has a research branch at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Its astronomers have recorded the positions of more than 500,000 stars.
As they did in many sciences, the Jesuits made outstanding astronomers. Fr Christopher Scheiner (1575 1650) was the first astronomer to study the sun systematically; Scheiner's halo is named after him. He may have also discovered sunspots before Galileo, but his discovery was so contrary to the opinions of the time "that his superiors begged him not to publish... under his own name for fear of ridicule".
Fr Pietro Angelo Secchi (1818-1878) surveyed over 4,000 stars; his fourfold division of spectral types became the basis for the Harvard classification system.
Fr Benedict Sestini (1816,1890), who was said to have two passions, "one for pure mathematics, the other for
pure Catholicism", made the first comprehensive study of star colours. Fathers Francesco Maria Grimaldi (1613-1663) and Giambattista Riccioli (1598-1671) made a notably accurate selenograph — a detailed map of the moon's surface — that now graces the entrance of the National Space Museum in Washington DC.
In tribute to their incomparable contributions in mathematics, astronomy and other sciences, individual Jesuits have no fewer than 35 craters of the moon named after them.
Why do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? by Michael P Foley is published by Palgrave Macmillan priced at 0.99. To order please visit www. palgrave.com telephone 01256 302866.
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