2009-10-15 12:54:47

History of Italy's celestial studies stars in Vatican Museums' exhibit

(October 15, 2009) The Vatican and Italian observatories have teamed up to display for the first time numerous precious instruments and books documenting the birth and development of stargazing in Italy. The Vatican Observatory, the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics and the Vatican Museums have pooled their collections of antique telescopes, astrolabes, celestial globes and manuscripts, such as Galileo Galilei's original handwritten notes detailing his observations of the moon. Many of the 130 items in the exhibit have never been displayed publicly. The exhibit, called "Astrum 2009," runs at the Vatican Museums from Oct. 16 to Jan. 16, 2010, and commemorates the International Year of Astronomy. The United Nations declared the special year to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first use of the telescope to observe the cosmos. The exhibit's curator, Ileana Chinnici, told journalists during a Vatican press conference Oct. 13 that Italy's unique patrimony of astronomical instruments is the richest in the world. Popes and the divided Italian states all supported their own observatories and amassed a large number of historical instruments and valuable documentation, she said. Some of the unique and valuable objects on display include Galileo's handwritten notes and his publication "Starry Messenger" from 1610. A few sections of the 130-piece exhibit are dedicated to the Vatican's history of astronomical research, including its participation in the 19th-century international Map of Heaven project to catalogue and make a map of the stars. Also on display for the first time are photographs of a papal expedition to Russia in 1887 to witness and document a total solar eclipse. Three Italian priests made the trip, which proved unsuccessful due to poor weather and viewing conditions.

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