Vatican: Astronomers to move from Pope's residence

Vatican City, 20 Dec. (AKI) - The Catholic church, which once branded astronomer Galileo Galilei and philosopher Giordano Bruno 'heretics' for their views on astronomy, is set to dismantle and transfer the 1891-built Vatican observatory to a nearby building.

Jesuit astronomers operating in the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo,(photo) in the Roman countryside, will be moved to a different building, due to lack of space, reported Italian daily Corriere Della Sera.

The space in the observatory is needed by the Vatican to host diplomats and heads of state who visit Pope Benedict XVI.

The entire area of the observatory will be used, while the building's two domes will be museums, open only on request.

A library with over 20,000 rare books, an extensive collection of meteorites and the residences of the scientists will all be transferred to an old convent, located one and a half kilometres away from Castel Gandolfo.

The observatory was built by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 to respond to claims that the church was opposed to scientific progress. It became famous, when in 1969 Pope Paul VI saw, with the help of powerful Vatican telescopes, the landing on the moon of American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin.

"It is in no way a downgrade of science by the Vatican," said Father Jose G. Funes, director of the Vatican observatory.

"To remain in the palace [Castel Gandolfo] was only a symbolic role, and where we will be moving to will be an even more comfortable place for us."

A second Vatican observatory already exists in the US state of Arizona, atop Mount Graham which is also considered a sacred place for native American Indians.


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