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Agent of pontiff will visit observatory at UA in Feb.

Citizen Staff Writer



The pope has never visited the University of Arizona, but the mayor of his city-state will do so in late February.

Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, will visit the offices of the Vatican Observatory Research Group at UA’s Steward Observatory on Feb. 26.

Lajolo is the executive in charge of the day-to-day running of Vatican City and responsible for reporting to Pope Benedict XVI about the Vatican Observatory research.

Vatican astronomers at UA announced Lajolo’s visit Wednesday.

The cardinal’s visit coincides with the Vatican-proclaimed International Year of Astronomy 2009 and “demonstrates his deep interest and support of the observatory,” said William Stoeger, a Jesuit astronomer with the Vatican Observatory and a UA adjunct associate professor of astronomy.

“A person of his stature doesn’t come that often to visit,” Stoeger said. “It indicates, in very clear terms, to people here and potential benefactors that this is indeed the Vatican Observatory, that the title isn’t just a name.”

UA Regents’ professor of astronomy and Steward Observatory director Peter Strittmatter said UA astronomers are “delighted” that Lajolo is visiting and can see Steward’s research facilities and learn about the “extremely productive collaboration” between UA astronomy faculty and members of the Vatican Observatory.

Launched in 1582 near Rome, the Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world.

It opened its UA-based research center in 1980, drawn to southern Arizona’s usually clear skies. Light pollution in Rome has limited the research that can be done there for decades.

Vatican astronomers inaugurated the 1.8-meter Lennon Telescope and its adjoining Bannan Astrophysics Facility at the Mount Graham International Observatory in southeastern Arizona in 1993.

The telescope’s mirror was cast in Steward Observatory’s Mirror Lab and is the prototype for the giant mirrors produced for the Large Binocular Telescope.

The LBT is a private telescope operated by an international consortium of institutes and universities in Italy, Germany and the U.S., and is the most powerful scope in the world.

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