Astronomers Meet in Vatican Observatory to View Venus

Planet Crossing the Face of the Sun

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 8, 2004 ( Astronomers from around the world met in the Vatican Observatory to view Venus’ transit across the face of the sun, an event that last occurred in the 19th century.

The observatory at the papal palace at Castel Gandolfo is host this week to 90 professional and advanced amateur astronomers, half of whom observed today’s transit of Venus between 7:20 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. local time from the roof of the palace in this town south of Rome, reported a statement issued by this institution.

The guests are part of a group organized by the American astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope. Another part of the group viewed the transit from a site nearby and will visit the observatory on June 10, according to a communiqué from the Vatican Specola, or observatory.

As proper equipment is necessary to observe the transit and the sun safely, in preparation for today’s event, the Specola received a gift of a specially equipped telescope from the Coronado Technology Group. Group president David Lund presented the telescope May 31 to Jesuit Father George Coyne, director of the observatory.

The rare transits of Venus happen in pairs, eight years apart, separated by 130 years. Since the invention of the telescope, only five such transits have ever been seen, the last in 1882. The next will occur in 2012.

The Vatican Observatory’s origins date back to Pope Gregory XIII, who established a scientific commission to study the elements necessary to reform the liturgical calendar, which took place in 1582.

The observatory is headquartered in Castel Gandolfo. In 1981, when the night skies of nearby Rome became too bright for the observatory, it founded a second research center, the Vatican Observatory Research Group, in Arizona.

In 1993, in collaboration with Steward Observatory, the Vatican Observatory completed the construction of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope on Mount Graham, Arizona, widely considered the best astronomical site in the continental United States.

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