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His Eminence Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, the President of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, will visit the offices of the Vatican Observatory Research Group at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory while in Tucson next month.
As the executive in charge of the day-to-day running of Vatican City, Cardinal Lajolo reports about the Vatican Observatory directly to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Vatican astronomers have announced his visit, which will occur Feb. 26 through Feb. 28.
While in Tucson, Cardinal Lajolo is set to visit the UA on Feb. 26. He will also attend the Vatican Observatory Foundation's annual seminar, board meeting and awards dinner during his stay, the Vatican astronomers said.
Cardinal Lajolo's visit coincides with the International Year of Astronomy 2009 and "signifies the unique interest which the Holy See has towards its scientific research institute" based in Tucson, Vatican Observatory Director José Funes, S.J., and Vatican Observatory public relations coordinator Guy Consolmagno, S.J., said in a news announcement.
"We have enjoyed an extremely productive collaboration with the Vatican Observatory in astronomical research and education for almost 30 years," UA Regents' Professor of astronomy and Steward Observatory Director Peter Strittmatter said.
Strittmatter noted that Steward faculty members have participated in the Vatican Observatory Summer Schools and that Vatican Observatory astronomers contribute to the astronomy education program.
"We are delighted that Cardinal Lajolo will be visiting the UA campus to see for himself the excellent research environment which the Vatican Observatory Research Group enjoys at Steward Observatory," Strittmatter said.
The Vatican Observatory, which traces its origins to Pope Gregory's reform of the calendar in 1582, is one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world. Since 1935, it has been headquartered in the papal summer home of Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.
The Vatican Observatory opened its dependent research center – the Vatican Observatory Research Group – in Tucson in 1980 to take advantage of southern Arizona's world-renowned astronomical facilities. The group is based at the UA's Steward Observatory.
Vatican astronomers inaugurated the 1.8-meter Lennon Telescope and its adjoining Bannan Astrophysics Facility, known together as the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, or VATT, at the Mount Graham International Observatory in southeastern Arizona in 1993.
The VATT's mirror, cast in the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab's giant rotating furnace and polished by innovative Mirror Lab "stressed-lap" technology, is the prototype for giant mirrors produced for the Large Binocular Telescope and other world-class telescopes.
The VATT is a major tool for Vatican astronomers studying planetary sciences, stellar astronomy, extragalactic astronomy and cosmology.
Funes and Consolmagno said Cardinal Lajolo, who speaks Italian, German, English and French, will meet with technical staff at UA responsible for developing the VATT during his visit.
Also during his U.S. visit, Cardinal Lajolo will attend a March 2 reception hosted by the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States, at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C.
The Vatican Observatory – or "Specola Vaticana" as it's widely known – is organizing other special International Year of Astronomy 2009 events.
One that involves several UA astronomy faculty is a week-long international symposium in June. The symposium will draw past participants and alumni of the Vatican Observatory Summer Schools at Castel Gandolfo to discuss the role of astronomers and astronomy in the 21st century as well as ongoing research projects. UA astronomy faculty have helped teach many of the Vatican summer schools, which began in 1986.