Vatican Exhibit Celebrates Astronomy

Offers Viewing of Ancient and New Instruments

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By Carmen Elena Villa

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2009 ( The Astrum 2009 exhibition, opening Friday in the Vatican Museums, will showcase astronomical instruments over four centuries old next to the most modern counterparts.
Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, headed the group that presented this exhibition at a press conference in the Holy See today.
The exhibition will open Oct. 16 and will run through Jan. 16, coinciding with the close of the International Year of Astronomy, promoted by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO.

The display is being organized by the Vatican Observatory, Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics and the Vatican Museums.
During the press conference, Ileana Chinnici, an organizer of the exhibition, said that «it is unique in its kind,» because for some treasures are being presented for the first time.

She explained that the display will include some 130 objects, including instruments, maps, manuscripts of Galileo Galilei, models of the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems, paintings, photographs, codes and books.
Chinnici reported that only two exhibitions of this type have been held previously: one in 1929 and another in 1958.

Historical colleagues
Another organizer, Tommaso Maccacaro, president of the national institute, said that these instruments «have been effectively used» by our colleagues in the past «to observe the heavenly bodies, measure properties, acquire data and verify hypotheses.»
He added that for the astronomers of history, these were similar to «the gigantic telescopes and complex instrumentation that we build and install today in the most remote sites of the planet — and also in orbits around the earth.»
Chinnici explained that this exhibition was initiated in order to «give visibility to this patrimony, enriched with books, archive letters and pieces from other valuable collections.»
He shared with the public his opinion on the most valuable object in the exhibition: a 16th century astrolabe — an instrument used to determine the altitude and position of the stars in the heavens.

«This piece was given to Pope Leo XII for his priestly jubilee,» the priest said. «The re-foundation of the Vatican Observatory in 1891 is very united to this specimen.»
Chinnici affirmed that Astrum 2009 hopes to make the public aware «of the richness of the value of Italian astronomic tradition, so that the public will approach astronomy of today and of the past not as the privilege of a few but as the patrimony of all.»
The Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomic institutions of the world. At present it is engaged in scientific research and education directed especially at young astronomers of developing countries.

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