University Lowbrow Astronomers

An Evening with Brother Guy Consolmagno.

by Jason Maguran
Printed in Reflections: March, 2010.

I was really looking forward to hearing Brother Guy Consolmagno speak last November, after hearing such rave reviews from fellow Lowbrows. I made the trip out to Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon, only to find an empty auditorium. After looking around a bit, figuring that I possibly had the wrong location, I tried calling a couple of Lowbrows, to no avail. I headed home, only to later discover that I had mixed up the date in my mind, and was exactly one week too late. Oops! I didn’t know if I would have another opportunity to see Brother Guy, since a trip from the Vatican is such a long one for him to make.

Brother Guy during his presentation at EMU.

Brother Guy during his presentation at EMU on February 17, 2010.

I know, because I was there once. See, I was living in Frankfurt, Germany back in 2001. I was there for a six-month work assignment. While there, my wife, step-son and I spent much time visiting many different countries and cities, one of which was the Vatican. Vatican City is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, Italy. It is its own country, with an area of approximately 0.17 square miles and a population of just over 800 people. And to think that, in addition to such famous places as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Apostolic Palace, they had the space to build an observatory? Wow, now that’s a wise use of land!

Trip to Rome.

Trip to Rome, just outside of the Coliseum, and about 1km from the Vatican.
As they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

First of all, I was surprised to see such a turn out, as the auditorium in the student center of Eastern Michigan University was almost full; I would say, approximately 300 people. I was pleased to see the familiar faces of several fellow Lowbrows. Brother Guy began with showing us a video of his interview by Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report, which was absolutely hilarious. For those of you who missed it, you can view it on-line at: www.colbertnation.com/video/tag/Guy+Consolmagno

Brother Guy showing a piece of Martian meteorite to Pope Benedict XVI.

Brother Guy showing a piece of Martian meteorite to Pope Benedict XVI.

His talk was about the latest book from the Vatican, “The Heavens Proclaim: Astronomy and the Vatican.” It talks about such topics as: The history of the Vatican Observatory, the mention of stars and other celestial bodies in the Bible, the peaceful coexistence of science and religion, the Catholic church’s position on science and astronomy, and many others. I very much enjoyed his witty and profound insights into human nature, and the way people perceive and interpret science and religion. One of my favorite quotes of his was, “Studying the universe is a great way to remind yourself that there’s more important things in life than what’s for lunch.” Afterwards, Norbert Vance invited us back to Sherzer Hall for refreshments and a tour of the observatory and astronomy department.

Norbert Vance giving Brother Guy a tour of the observatory at Sherzer Hall.

Norbert Vance giving Brother Guy a tour of the observatory at Sherzer Hall.

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