Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Lord of the Rings

Fr. David Brown, SJ adjusting the telescope to
observe Jupiter.
Deum creatorem Venite adoremus  — Come adore God the Creator — is the Vatican Observatory's motto, inscribed on the wall of the dome of one of the two telescopes on top of the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo.

Last night a group of eight students and faculty from the Vatican Observatory Summer School went observing with Fr. David Brown, SJ (a specialist in stellar evolution and the caretaker of the telescopes here).

We went through the big wooden doors that open from the piazza into the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, packed into the miniature elevator and rode up to the roof. The view at sunset was astounding, the crater splayed out before us on one side, Rome and the far distant Mediterranean on the other.  That view is a gift.

Students at the VOSS observing Mars.
David had opened the dome as we were taking in the view, and we climbed the steps up and in.  First target Jupiter. Three at a time, we rode the platform, which groaned and creaked and shook its way high enough up for us to reach the eyepiece.  My turn came and I put my eye to the lens and there it was, a soft blue-green orb, striped (no red dot) and four moons in a tidy row. Whoa.  The Galilean moons.

Mars was lower in the sky, which meant the platform needed to get higher, and higher still to see Saturn.  I rode the platform up and up, and when I looked through the lens, the first words out of my mouth were, "Oh, my God!"  followed by "I mean that in the very best way. " Floating in front of my eyes was Saturn, its rings clearly visible, the Cassini division a dark stripe running down the middle. And two jewel like moons.

I loved the slice of sky you could see through the dome, and the view from the windows.  And the way the dome closed, by pulling on a rope.

It was not the same as seeing the pictures.  Not at all.

Oh, my God, indeed.

You can read about the Zeiss telescope here.

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