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So, now I'm the new director...

... of the Vatican Observatory. A lot of people have had questions about what this will mean for me, and also (by extension) what it will mean for them, especially for folks who have invited me to give talks, sit on panels, etc. etc.

The honest answer is, I don’t know yet. I’ve been on the job less than 24 hours, most of that during a weekend! Give me a month and I’ll have a better idea.

But there are some things I can say about the different hats I will be wearing, and how I intend to wear them.

First of all, I will continue as President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.

In fact, my immediate feeling about the Observatory is that we’re in pretty good shape in Rome but we need a lot of attention in Tucson… That’s not because the folks in Tucson haven’t been doing their job, but rather because they’ve been doing it very well indeed. As a result, we now have a telescope that is constantly being improved and constantly more heavily subscribed, and therefore one that needs an ever more stable and secure source of annual funding.

So, I plan to spend the majority of the coming year in the US. There are two linked reasons for this.

First, I have always been sensitive to the fact that when Pope Leo XIII founded the observatory (in 1891) he stated that it was so that the world could clearly see that the Church supported good science. Doing good science is, obviously essential for that; otherwise we have nothing to show. But the “showing” is also essential. We’ve done that in an ad-hoc way for the past 20 years, at least. I am trying to organize a more systematic approach to our education and public outreach (aka “EPO”). The Foundation is the obvious vehicle for that effort.

But, in addition, if we want to have stable funding for our Observatory in the US, it also has to come through the Foundation.

Now, the Foundation gets its most of its funding from two sources: family foundations that are generally set up specifically to fund educational projects, and personal donations that range from tens to tens of thousands of dollars. So we need to provide — and show we are providing — a variety of EPO work that the foundations can fund. And we need to reach out to the donors, especially the smaller donors. To that end, we’re developing all sorts of programs… from the Faith and Astronomy Workshop to a range of high school collaborations, to our Catholic Astronomer blog page.

But a large part of our outreach has always been through public talks at churches, schools, universities, and conventions. In particular I think science fiction conventions are an ideal place for me. First of all, I’m a long time fan; I have some street cred with my fellow fans. And also, these are the places where you find lots of bright and curious folks who love to hear about astronomy, and place it in the human context… that, after all, is what makes science fiction special. The human context includes religion, in all its forms, organized and personal and everything in between.

So I will maintain my schedule of getting to SF conventions as much as I can. But I also need to recognize that my other duties do have to come first. For example, I had three weeks of talks arranged in the UK starting on September 21, and I had to cancel that whole trip once the date of my new job was worked out. I need to be here to sign all the paperwork and learn where the gears and levers of the new job are to be found.

Meanwhile… if you want to keep track of what we are up to, do follow The Catholic Astronomer blog at www.vofoundation.org/blog There’s a calendar there linked to my own personal calendar so you can see where I am giving talks. Except for the UK trip I noted above, I intend to keep all the other commitments I’ve made. (Except where I managed to triple-book myself… I haven’t quite mastered bilocation yet! My apologies to the folks whom I have had to cancel, as a result.)

I’m looking forward to working with the incredible staff and facilities that my predecessors have put together. My task will mostly be to get out of their way and let them fly. And that includes everyone who considers themselves a friend of the Observatory. You should know that all the good thoughts and best wishes I have received from everyone have meant a great deal to me. (And those who have supported in a more tangible way, thanks for that, too!)

Astronomy is a joyful profession, and I intend to have fun at this job. To quote e.e. cummings — there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go!

Br Guy's Sasquan Schedule

Carl Sagan Medal Speech

Wednesday 21:00 - 22:30, Integra Telecom Ballroom 100B (CC)

Longtime fan and the Vatican astronomer, Guy Consolmagno, won the Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in Public Communication in Planetary Science. His speech is:

             Discarded Worlds: Astronomical Ideas that Were Almost Correct...

Astronomy is more than just observing; it’s making sense of those observations. A good theorist needs a good imagination...and no fear of being wrong. Ptolemy in ancient Rome, the medieval bishops Oresme and Cusa, the 19th century astronomers Schiaparelli and Pickering, all rose to the challenge; and they were all almost correct. Which is to say, they were wrong...sometimes hilariously, sometimes heartbreakingly so. What lessons can 21st century astronomers take from these discarded worlds?

Star Party

Wednesday 22:30 - 23:30, King Cole Footbridge (Riverfont Park)

Brother Guy and the Spokane Astronomical Society will lead a walk in the park.  What can we see in the sky from a city?  We will stop by the Breezeway en route to the King Cole Footbridge in Riverfront Park.   The Spokane Astronomical Society will provide some telescopes, but if you have a pair of binoculars, bring them along!

Pluto in Your Rear-View Mirror: News from the New Horizons Mission

Thursday 11:00 - 11:45, 302AB (CC)

Pluto has always been the planet...errhhh...dwarf planet of mystery.  On July 14,  the New Horizons spacecraft whizzed past Pluto and its satellites 9 years after blasting off from Earth. Find out what science has learned in 2015 about the worlds on the solar system's frontier, and where the New Horizons will journey next.   This panel will open with a presentation on the New Horizons spacecraft mission by Bill Higgins and will include a discussion among the panelists.

Bill Higgins (M) , Alan Boyle , Tony Lewis , Guy Consolmagno, David Clements

Vesta and the Chaotic Formation of Planets

Thursday 14:00 - 14:45, 300D (CC)

The recent Dawn mission was sent to Vesta to inspect, close up, an intact protoplanet from the origin of the solar system. Except... Vesta's overall density is too low, and its core and crust too big, to fit anything like what we expect an intact protoplanet to look like. Was it ripped apart and re-assembled? It looks like Vesta is giving us new clues to planet formation and evolution in a violent early solar system.

Medieval Science and Engineering

Thursday 15:00 - 15:45, 300C (CC)

We often think of the Middle Ages as a time of science stagnation. However, much was going on in Europe and elsewhere in the development of science and engineering. A panel of scientists, engineers and historians will discuss what was happening in those long-past days.

Bradford Lyau (M) , Guy Consolmagno , Ada Palmer , Jo Walton , Eric Swedin

Tom Swift's Shopton Industries, or Bellwether?

Friday 10:00 - 10:45, 302AB (CC)

A panel of scientists and engineers describing how our lives fit, or does not fit, the way it is depicted in science fiction. People don't know what our daily life is like, how we pay our bills, how we interact with our bosses or The Suits; some SF stories get it pretty good, others get it completely wrong. Is our life more like Tom Swift or like Bellwether?

Guy Consolmagno (M) , Klarissa Davis , James C. Glass , Jordin T. Kare

Kaffee Klatche - Guy Consolmagno

Friday 12:00 - 12:45, 202A-KK2 (CC)

Limited to 10, requires advance sign-up (online signup enabled until 6am on Thur 8/20). Coffee and snacks available for sale on the 2nd floor.

Leslie Turek Guest Interview

Friday 13:00 - 14:15, Integra Telecom Ballroom 100B (CC)

Guest of Honor Leslie Turek will be interviewed by Brother Guy Consolomagno on her years in fandom. This interview may run as late as 3:45

Pluto Isn't Just a Disney Dog

Friday 19:00 - 19:45, 207 (CC)

(Kids Program) Pluto has now been explored! Join scientists to see what NASA has learned about the famous icy world on the edge of our Solar System.

Bill Higgins , Guy Consolmagno

Dawn of the Asteroid Belt: Exploring Vesta and Ceres

Saturday 10:00 - 10:45, 207 (CC)

Asteroids are relics of the ancient Solar System. NASA's Dawn spacecraft orbited Vesta for a year. Now its ion thrusters have propelled it across the Asteroid Belt to Ceres, the largest asteroid, where Dawn has again entered orbit. Join Bill Higgins to explore Dawn's findings at Vesta and its plans for doing science at Ceres.

Bill Higgins , Guy Consolmagno

Reading - Guy Consolmagno

Saturday 12:30 - 13:00, 303B (CC)

Someone on twitter (hi @Maryloduffin!) asked for the text... here is what I prepared, not including the ad-libs...

To the president, the provost, the deans, I thank you; honored guests, I greet you; to the Truman State University Class of 2015, I congratulate you. I am honored to share this stage with you.

Thinking about the class of 2015, I did some calculations… it’s the nerd in me, I know… and I realized that most of you were probably born in the early 1990s, which means you would have been around Harry Potter’s age when those movies came out.  You are the generation who grew up alongside Harry Potter. That’s pretty wonderful. No other generation will be able to say that.

And I mention that, because there’s connection between you and Harry Potter. Like Harry Potter, you are all wizards. And you’re all about to graduate from Hogwarts.

I mean, think about it. What do we know about magic – the way it’s presented in the movies? You wave a wand, and say a few magic words, and amazing things happen.

But isn’t that what you’ve learned here? By learning to speak, learning to write, learning to learn, you have learned the magic of words. You have learned how words have the power to transform the people around you; and how you, yourself can be transformed by words. (And you don’t even need the wand, though sometimes it might be useful!)

And, of course, if you get the words just a little bit wrong, the magic doesn’t work. Anyone who’s written a computer program knows how that feels!

The magic of words is a tremendous power. It can be used for good, or for evil. We’re all tempted to be Lord Voldemort at times. Maybe that’s why they invited a guy with a collar to speak to you this afternoon.
As you have heard, I am a Jesuit brother. I am also a planetary astronomer; and I work at the Vatican Observatory. A lot of people are surprised to hear that the Vatican City State has its own national observatory. That’s one of the reasons we have it: to surprise people.

This is an exciting time to be a planetary astronomer like me. The Dawn mission is orbiting our closest dwarf planet, Ceres, the first body ever discovered in what we now call the Asteroid Belt. (Ceres was discovered by a Catholic priest, by the way, from Italy.) The International Space Station has housed people in space continually for nearly 15 years. NASA’s Orion capsule has flown its first test orbit; some day we hope it will bring astronauts to asteroids, or back to the Moon, or maybe even to Mars. And next month, the New Horizons spacecraft will encounter Pluto. Talk about magic!

My own career has led to some pretty magical encounters. When I was a post-doc at Harvard I would talk interplanetary dust with Ed Purcell, who had won the Nobel Prize in Physics the year I was born. When I joined the Jesuits and was sent to Rome, I got to meet three Popes. Pope Francis is a Jesuit, like me, and a friend of science; he once taught chemistry. And he sure knows how to electrify a church, which I guess we needed… kind of like those big paddles they use to get your heart beating again.

But there’s another connection between science and religion, and it may surprise you: it’s the need for faith.

A friend of mine once told me once about a geology class he had taken, where they went out to a road cut — a place where the road had been cut through a hillside and all the rocks had been exposed. The professor had explained all the different rock layers, the faults and folds, where this layer had been emplaced and then bent and shifted by the forces inside the Earth.

The way my friend described it, he said, “at first, all I could see was a pile of rocks. But I trusted the prof, so I tried really hard to see what he was describing. And suddenly it all popped out; I got it. But if I hadn’t believed it, I never would have seen it.”

Science depends on faith. Before you go looking for an answer, you have to believe that the answer is there to be found. You have to believe that you are actually capable of finding that answer. And you have to believe that the project is worth the time, worth the effort. If it turns out that your beliefs were justified, you’ve got yourself a thesis. If any of those beliefs were misplaced, well… those are the ones who didn’t make it to this ceremony.

And it’s just after such moments of failure that continuing to believe is the hardest — and the most necessary. That’s when sometimes you need the jolt to the heart, to get things moving again. That’s when you need the magic you learned here.

All of life is making decisions based on inadequate data. Was this the right university for me? Was that the right major to choose? Well… too late now!

Think how young you were when you made those choices… it was just a few years ago, but you’ve learned a lot since then.You’re a different person from the one who chose to come here, chose your major, chose your thesis topic. It’s been a transformation as magical and unexpected as anything you’s see at Hogwarts.

In retrospect, you may find that even the choices that turned out to be right, were made for crazy reasons; and the choices that seem like a mistake, are often the ones that lead you to places you’d never expect, things you would never want to give up. Surprise!

Our lives are the sum of our choices; the sum of the places where we put our faith. Whether your life leads you to working with Popes or Nobel Laureates or the poor… there is one thing you can believe:

You can have faith in the things you learned here; you can have faith in the magic. You’ve learned how to learn, and how to keep learning. But even more, you should believe that there are all sorts of “easter eggs” hidden in what you’ve learned, things that you didn’t even realize you learned until some day, in some surprising way, that bit of wisdom pops out, just when you needed it.

I believe these things because I have seen them in myself and in my fellow graduates.

I have faith in you. I believe in the magic that you have learned here. I have faith in the surprises that will come your way; especially today, as the choices you made in good faith culminate into this surprisingly satisfying moment: when you hear the words that with their magic power pronounce you as graduates of Truman State University.


The Day the War Ended, 2

My father by this together in 1995; now, on the 70th anniversary, he's emailed it around to his family and friends. I may have posted it before, but I think it deserves a wide audience...

–The fighting and dying in Europe went on for nine days more, but at Stalag VIIA, April 29, 1945, was –

The Day The War Ended

David Westhelmer, krlegie
We began hearing distant, spaced explosions. The artillery men among us said it was fieldpieces and only forty or fifty miles away. My German friend came to see me. He said, "I have heard this sort of thing before. On the Russian Front. Your friends are very near. I think they will be here within twenty-four hours. Then you will be free, and I will be a prisoner."

I lay awake that night wondering if he were only telling me what I wanted to hear, as I suspected Germans did a lot, or had information we weren't privy to.

Lt. Cot. A.P.Clark, POW Intelligence
We began hearing the guns. We knew how close they were, and one night the Germans called the senior officer out front. At that time the senior officer was "Pop" Goode, an Army officer and very distinguished senior colonel. I went with him because he had selected me to be his operations officer – operations and intelligence officer – along with a half a dozen others.

The German said, "Tonight is probably the night. Tomorrow morning you will probably be free. Colonel Goode, the local commander of this area would like to talk to you."

So they put him in a German jeep and took him to the headquarters of whoever was defending that sector.

The German general said, "I would like you to take this message to the local American commander and give him a proposal. The proposal is that we demilitarize this particular sector because of the huge POW camp in it."

There was also a river crossing in the sector with two very crucially important bridges and that's what he wanted to demilitarize so we couldn't get across the river.

Pop Goode said he would be happy to take the message; he couldn't give any promise. So he took the message.

14th Armored Division History
While the assault on Landshut was going on, the 477th Tank Battalion had jumped off in the assault on the Moosburg Prison Camps.

Here is that story:

It is 0600, 29 April. The attack of Combat Command A Is due to be resumed at this moment. The command post is located in Puttenhausen, Germany.

The 47th Tank Battalion is eight miles to the southeast where it halted operations at 2300 last night. Lieut. Col. Bob Edward's 68th Armored Infantry Battalion is three miles north of the command post, having run into hard resistance late the preceding day and having been ordered to halt at Malnburg to avoid running into a known night ambush.

Soon now, reports should arrive that the battalions are moving, and the guns of Joseph J. Murtha's 500th Armored Field Artillery Battalion should be heard. At one minute before 0600 a strange group strode into the headquarters of Combat Command A, to meet Brig. Gen. C.H. Karistad, Combat Commander. It consisted of a German Major, representing the commander of the Moosburg Allied Prisoner of War Camp, Col. Paul S. Goode of the United States Army, and a Group Commander of the British Royal Air Force-the senior American and British officers respectively – imprisoned in the Moosburg Camp; a Swiss Red Cross representative; and Col. Lann.

The German Major brought a written proposal from his commander for the creation of a neutral zone surrounding Moosburg, all movement of Allied troops in the general vicinity of Moosburg to stop while representatives of the Allied and German Governments conferred on disposition of Allied Prisoners of War in that vicinity.

The German proposals were rejected and the party was given until 0900 to return to Moosburg and to submit an unconditional surrender offer – or receive the American attack at that hour; a CCA staff officer was dispatched to General Smith.
German SS troops moved outside the city and set up a defense perimeter. They opened the fight.

He (Col. Goode) was up all night. He got to this leading division headquarters, command post; it was one of his old friends. They gave him breakfast of bacon and eggs, white bread, and he said, "Pop, obviously I am going to reject this offer, but we'll be through there at, let's see, 8:30 tomorrow morning. There will be a few shots fired, and that's all there will be."

Dick Schrupp, kriegie
We had cameras that had been smuggled into the camp and Colonel Clark told John Bennett and me to try to get out the front gate and get pictures of the expected liberation.

We had no trouble with the guard at the gate. He knew that for him the war was over. Soon after we got outside, two cars marked with red crosses drove up. To our surprise, out stepped Colonel Goode, senior American officer, and Group Captain Kellett, the senior British officer.

Col. Goode said to us, "You guys better hunt a hole, because the war is going to start."

So Goode took back the rejected answer to the Germans and then came on back into camp. He got into camp just about daylight, and we all gathered around him in his room. He was tired. He peeled of his shirt, reached soulfully into his pocket, and pulled out a crumbled piece of white bread. We hadn't seen that for three years.

He said, "I had bacon and eggs for breakfast."

And he said, very casually, "They are coming through this morning just about 30 minutes from now. There will be a little shooting and then it will be all over."

Rev. Eugene Daniel, kriegie chaplain
Sunday, April 29, 1945, began much like any Sunday in Stalag 7A, but there was a mysterious air of uncertainty or expectancy. After eating a scant breakfast I began to prepare for the 10 o'clock church service. No building was available, so plans had been made to hold the service on an open plaza in front of a small building used for food distribution. The place was centrally located and well known to the kriegies. It could accommodate several hundred standing men and even more because it was just off the paved street which ran down the middle of the camp. Men could even stand in the street if necessary. I placed a small table in front of the building and put some Bibles and hymn books on it. Worshippers began to arrive in small numbers from about 9:30 A.M. onward. By 9:45 a large congregation had gathered. About that time we saw planes in the distance and heard explosions far off.

At ten o'clock two P-51 fighters roared in and began beating up the camp. For fifteen minutes they made passes, rocking their wings or tumbling in acrobatics. Kriegies massed outside, waving and cheering. The fighters slowrolled and streaked southwest. We heard long, crackling bursts as they strafed ground targets. Why had they taken time off from a strafing mission to entertain us?

Several American fighter planes buzzed the camp, as if to show us POWs and the Germans that our ground forces were near and that our planes could roam at will. All of us let up cheers, and the excitement mounted to a feverish pitch. Our planes did not fire on the German guard towers nor did the guards fire their machine guns at the planes. However, after a plane had buzzed the camp, it would proceed to a nearby railroad yard and blast railroad cars standing there. We heard explosions all around. It was impossible to hold service with all this air activity going on, so I announced that we would wait until the planes had gone away before beginning church service.

While we were watching and waiting, we began to hear rifle fire in the direction of camp headquarters. It grew more intense and bullets began to whiz all around us. We assumed correctly that the American ground forces had arrived and were taking the town by force. Everyone hit the ground and tried to crawl to a safe place. I crawled to one of the posts holding up a shed in front of the building. The post was sitting on a square cement block about 15 inches high. I put my head behind the block and on the opposite side from which the rifle fire was coming. I was scared, but I was comforted when I heard a frightened voice back of me saying over and over again, "I'm right behind you, Chaplain."! turned my head enough to see it was one of my friends, Air Force Colonel Lew Parker, who was apparently as scared as I was.

Small arms fire began slamming into the area just outside the camp where Bennett and I waited with our cameras. We jumped into an air raid slit trench. As we hunkered down, we saw we were sharing the trench with some of the German guards. With American combat troops due to roar in any minute, it suddenly dawned on us that this wasn't exactly the best company to be in. We ran like blazes toward a building near the front gate and threw ourselves behind it.

Then, to avoid the possibility of being sighted and fired on by the retreating SS troops, we broke into the building. We no sooner got inside than a tank shell bored through the German administration building and into ours, blowing a big hole in the wall.

John Bennett, kriegie
At this moment I am sitting in a fox hole listening to the gunfire of the troops and the rumble of our tanks. The odd bullet whistles overhead. All in all, it is quite exciting. The German SS troops have taken up positions just to the north of our camp, about 300 yards away and have been blasting away since 9 a.m.

Great excitement when the building we were occupying was hit by an American tank shell. Thank heaven none of my party was hurt. The shell went through the Goon barracks where German troops were billeted and wounded a few of them. I don't know how many were hurt or killed, or how many of our fellows were hurt.

I was rounding the edge of a barracks when a burst of fire from a machine gun set up in the cheese factory across the road rattled overhead. I hit the dirt, angry I'd been fired on. Didn't they know kriegies were protected species? And anyway, I hadn't done anything wrong. There were bursts of fire all around the camp now. A firefight. There obviously were German troops who didn't know Stalag VIIA was an open area.

With no more fire coming inside, I crawled to a spot behind our barracks to join friends. All the ground officers were on the deck or peering from a slit trench. Kriegies who'd never been shot at personally were still on their feet trying to see what was going on. Fighters flew over low on strafing runs, not pausing to entertain us. Firing increased on every side. We knew friendly forces were close. A burst from the cheese factory tower tore through the front end of our barracks. I learned later the only casualty was Doc Heston Daniel. A bullet grazed his stomach. Barely a Purple Heart wound.

Lu Cox, kriegie medic
I was interrupted while attending to morning sick call by a burst of machine gun fire which came through the walls of my clinic room, just over my head. The bullets left a neat row of stitches about a foot below the ceiling where they entered the room and they made ugly splotches where they left. I Immediately dived under the table, hugging the floor. I gradually worked my way to the window and dived headlong out the window and plunged head first into the nearby slit trench. Small arms fire and 105mm and 90mm fire filled the air. Having never heard tank fire before, I thought we were in the middle of a heavy artillery duel and I just knew that some of those shells would land near us. Those shells made enough noise to make me think they were firing sixteen inch naval shells.

I was plenty scared, believe me. But curiosity had greater powers. I just had to see what was going on. I had to see how our forces were doing. Every time I stuck my head above the top of my trench, the air around my head was filled with the sounds of many angry bees. I knew that there weren't any bees around so there could only be one other thing that made noises like that - bullets. It didn't take much for me to know that the most logical place for my head was at the bottom of the trench and not the top. After living through three years of this war, this was no time to get my head blown off just because I wanted to see what was going on. I'll be satisfied to read about it In books or see the action in the movies, after I get home – If I ever do.

We were all on the deck now, apprehensive but exuberant. A colonel came out of the back of our barracks and ordered everyone inside. When I reached our tier I found Kennedy sitting on a lower bunk, a tight, nervous grin on his face. We sat side by side, listening to the battle and talking quietly. What was it going to be like to be free again? Would our troops have food for us, hearty army rations? How long before we'd be home? We were nervous but happy, though not as deliriously as we'd anticipated. Our only concern was that we might be caught In an artillery duel.

Kriegles huddled in lower bunks all around us, out of the line of stray bursts that might whistle through the compound. Schoonmaker was trembling with excitement, smiling. Machine guns opened up from the direction of Moosburg, from the sound of them within the town. Kennedy and I were too nervous to sit still. We went to the washroom to brew up. He
split wood while I got out the Nescafe, Kllm and sugar, for once not stinting. We crouched near the window while the water heated, peeking out from time to time, seeing only eerie emptiness. There was not a soul, German or krlegie, out of doors.
We talked restlessly, too numbed by what was happening to fully appreciate it. A distant, loud explosion rattled the washroom windows. We thought It might be a mined Isar bridge going up. The battle would be over soon. We were consumed with impatience. Now that freedom was at hand all we could think of was how quickly they'd get us out. We tried making specific plans for our first days at home, but there were so many possibilities we gave up and whispered only of how soon, how soon?

Presently the shooting died down, but not before two or three men who had come to worship had received flesh wounds. In a lull, we all scurried back to our barracks or to trenches in the open area. Following previous instructions from the Germans, we closed the shutters on our windows and waited to see what was going to happen Most of us lay on the floor. Some of the men got under the barracks on the ground.

Occasionally one of us would peep out to see if we could find out what was going on. Shooting in the camp gradually ceased except for an occasional single shot. No Germans could be seen in the guard towers. However, in the town of Moosburg the Germans and the Americans were still fighting. Moosburg sat on a hill so we could see bits of the action. German machine gunners were firing at the Americans from the bell tower of one church.

When the shooting died down, we went back to the front gate, and decided to go down the road a piece to greet the American troops. As we moved along a hedge row we heard running feet on the other side, German troops, we guessed, heading elsewhere.

Again we were under fire, apparently from the church steeple in Moosburg. We beat it back to the front gate and waited, cameras ready, for the arrival of our troops.

After a quick survey, we discovered that about seven of our boys had been wounded by stray bullets. One of them had been standing in the street when a stray shot hit him in the thigh. The rest of the boys around him had no sooner hit the dirt when a burst of machine gun fire raked the street. Doc Daniels was standing in one of the First Aid Rooms when a rifle bullet struck one of the iron bars in the window at which he was standing. It ricochetted from the bar and hit Danny in the abdomen. It went through the buckle of his belt and his clothes and lodged in the outer muscle layer of his abdomen. We took care of those boys until medical attention could be sent in from outside.

14th Armored
By 1030 the SS were lying dead in the fields and along the roads, grey-white faces and open mouths, twisted and staring sightlessly at the cold, blue sky above; and American medium tanks were roaring through the cobbled streets of the ancient city.

The 47th had split into two columns, one led by Maj. Kircher and the other by Col. Lann; and Gen. Karistad went into the city with the 47th. Gen. Karlstad picked up a German officer as a guide, and with Lieut. Joseph P. Luby and Lieut. William J. Hodges took off for the prison camp proper.

The jeep mounted a .30 caliber machine gun; as it swung up, there were several score armed German guards outside. Luby rolled into their midst, his jeep stopped, and with his hand on the gun called: "Achtungi" The group surrendered.

General Smith arrived at the camp shortly thereafter; an American flag was raised.

A jeep rolled in the gate first. Never had such a thrill. The camp went wild with joy. I took pictures of the whole proceedure: the official capitulation of the German CO to our Senior Officer, the disarming of our German guards, the arrival of the tanks and the raising of the U.S. flag over the camp.

The tanks were right behind the jeep and I took some excellent pictures of the tanks with some of our POW officers on them. My finest photo was of the German senior officer and the British senior officer making the surrender official. The photo shows the American tank unit commander standing just under the barrel of his tank gun.

About an hour or so from the time the shooting began all became quiet and we could look out the windows freely. We saw an American flag go up in Moosburg but it was soon hauled down again. We didn't know whether the Germans had retaken the town but soon the Stars and Stripes went up again. Later we found out that the first time the flag was upside-down so had to be turned rightside-up.

From our barrack, located more than half the distance from the front end of the camp to the back, we could not tell what was going on at the main gate or at camp headquarters.

We went back to our bunks to sip our rich brew from the cans, speaking in tense whispers as all around us were doing, straining for any new sound. We heard one. A heavy rumble. 'Tanks," said a ground officer. Krlegies shouted on the main road. A kriegie rushed in the back door, screaming, 'A Sherman tank just came in the front gate? We're out?" All firing had ceased but an occasional burst from Moosburg. "Well, Jesus Christ, Westhelmer," Kennedy cried, 'let's go out and have a look?"

We went out to the main street. Just as we reached the mob there, the cheering began. An American flag was flying from the steeple of the village church. It was over.

It had been two years, four months and eighteen days since we swam out of the Natchez to Mobile, Memphis to St. Jo – 869 days.

Shortly after, I saw our Sherman tanks crash through the main gates. At 1240 hours the American flag flew over the camp, on the very same flag pole where only a few hours ago the Nazi flag was flying. The commander of the Tank Division, the Fourteenth Armored Division, brought his tank right into the camp. He drove it up and down the full length of the street that ran through our camp. The commander was Major A.S. Kircher of Lansing, Michigan. As the tank moved through the narrow prisoner-jammed streets, the krlegies swarmed all over it. All you could see of the tank was the long, ugly, black barrel of the 90mm that was mounted on the front of the Sherman.

The major was standing in the turret, waving to the men as they cheered and shouted to him as the tank moved slowly through the mass of men. The entrance of the camp was surrounded by numerous other Shermans. The men in the tanks assured us that even though this was only a spearhead, we had nothing to worry about, for they were being supported closely by the 68th Armored Infantry.

The camp went wild with happiness and some of my photographs show the celebrating. The American tanks rolled right through the middle of the camp and krieigies crawled all over them.

Shortly after noon every one of the 125,000 kriegles was out celebrating. Men were all over the roofs of the barracks waving home-made flags of every nation represented in the camp. Someone counted 21 different nations. Where they got the material for the flags I'll never know, but they surely made some professional-looking ones in a hurry.

After awhile an American tank came rumbling down the main street of the camp. The ex-POWs swarmed all over it so that the driver finally had to stop while the men tried to touch it and get a look at it. The tank crew entered into the fun and threw cartridges and anything else that would serve as a souvenir to the krlegtes. The tank crew and the other soldiers who came into the camp were bombarded with questions about how things were going in the war and back home. These liberators shared their cigarettes, chewing gum, candy and whatever else they had with the swarms of men but, of course, they could only give to a small fraction of the 125,000 prisoners.

14th Armored
Official estimates of the total Allied prisoners freed at Moosburg were 110,000, including an estimated 30,000 Americans, officers and men. Besides a series of seven prisoner of war camps, the Division captured a German garrison of 6000 men at Moosburg.
Once the sharp, pitched battle by the SS was over, the German defenses crumbled. The 600-man 47th Tank Battalion took 2,000 prisoners; the 600-man 94th Reconnaissance Squadron took 2,000 more. Division total for the day was set at 12,000.

14th Armored
Scenes of the wildest rejoicing accompanied the tanks as they crashed through the double 10-foot wire fences of the prison camps. There were Norwegians, Brazilians, French, Poles, Dutch, Greeks, Romanians, Bulgars. There were Americans, Russians, Serbs, Italians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Australians, British, Canadians — men from every nation fighting the Nazis. There were officers and men. Twenty-seven Russian Generals, sons of four American Generals. There were men and women in the prison camps – Including three Russian women doctors. There were men of every rank and every branch of service, there were war correspondents and radio men. Around the city were thousands of slave laborers, men and women.

All combined to give the 14th the most incredible welcome it ever received. The tanks were finally slowed to five miles an hour as they went through the camps – the press of men in front of them was so great. Men, some of them prisoners five years, some American Air Corps men prisoners two years, cried and shouted and patted the tanks.

News Wire

Edited by Joe Consolmagno for:
Special Edition Moosburger Zeitung April 29, 1995
Do I recommend MIT? Only if you are a very particular type of student.

There is a reason why schools like MIT are so rare: because for most people, it is the wrong school to go to.

MIT is *not* a place to find yourself. Because it is such an intense environment, it can be devastating to anyone who doesn't already have a strong sense of who they are, and where they want to go. (Mind you, after MIT is finished with you, the person you thought you were at 18 won't be the person you are at 22; but if that were not so, then what would be the point of going there?)

I roomed at MIT with my best friend from high school, and it was a terrible place for him. He would have been much happier at a small liberal arts school.

Furthermore, another high school friend was admitted to Cal Tech but wound up at the University of Detroit, which is not a top-flight school; but he made a point of seeking out the best professors there, regardless of their subject matter, and as a result is one of the best-educated people I know. He got a better education there than most Harvard grads get. (His daughter went to Harvard.)

The fact is, you will learn exactly the same things in the classroom at the University of Michigan (or any other big state school) that you will at MIT, and in the classroom at Enormous State University you will find students just as capable and professors just as good at their work (and just as bad at their teaching); and that would be a whole lot cheaper and closer to home.

But... for me, MIT was exactly the right place to go. It formed my life more than anything else I have ever done, and I love the place to this day.

Here's what you get at MIT, and only MIT:

1. You get a degree that opens doors around the world... including doors inside yourself. There have been many times in my later career when I might have doubted my ability to move forward, but then looked at that MIT ring on my finger and told myself to suck it up and get back to work. For myself at least, I don't think a degree from Penn State would have given me that same sense of confidence.

2. You get an institute that immediately treats you as an adult, expecting you to take care of yourself. It doesn't give you an education so much as provide a place where you can educate yourself. This attitude is very different from what you find at most other colleges, who pride themselves on their support and guidance. You don't get much support or guidance at MIT. It can be scary to go to an institution that will happily let you fail.

3. On the other hand... you get an institution that is not out to weed people out. At big state schools, the attitude is that they've admitted more students than they can graduate, and so the first year or two is full of hurdles to test how much you really want to get an education. MIT is just the opposite; it is hard enough to get in, that they don't want to admit they made a mistake in admitting you! So, while they will give you enough rope to hang yourself, they will also be there to help you when you finally admit you need help. (But you have to take the first step.)

4. You get a student body where you will fit in; or at least where no one will judge you harshly for not fitting in. And where you will actually be given the space to learn how to interact and deal with other very smart people. Note that the majority of the students at MIT are not (as they are at Cal Tech, say), hopeless geeks. Yes, MIT has its large share of Asperger's, but they are not the majority! (Do you want to know what it is like being a student at MIT? See the movie Real Genius. Yes, it is actually based on Cal Tech, but it is the same idea; and it is not that much of an exaggeration.)

5. You're at the best location in Boston, which is the best city in the world to be a student.

6. You get the world's largest open-shelf collection of science fiction. (The sailing pavilion is excellent, too.)
Tis the season of students wondering about where to to go college, so I thought I would post here my standard set of advice... one size does not fit all, and that is especially true of advice!
Oddly enough, the things from high school I use to this day in my work include things I never thought were important at the time I was learning them:

  the ability to speak on my feet (which I learned in Speech class, a class I thought back then was a total waste of time);

  the ability to present my work in writing and in posters (which I learned not only in the classroom but also working on the yearbook and school newspaper);

  and the ability to handle foreign languages.

If you are to be a successful scientist you need to be able to describe what you did so that other people will understand not only your results, but why they matter. (And why they should give you a grant to do it.) This means, public speaking. Writing. Art.

Writing means reading; you only learn to write well by reading things that are written well. And the exercise of analyzing a poem or a play is exactly the same skill you eventually use to analyze data. Or someone else' s paper.

In this connection, an ability with a foreign language is really useful. It gets you used to looking at things you have taken for granted from a completely different context and point of view. I found when I was teaching physics that my best students had all had Latin in high school. And I don't think it's just because the best students are tracked into Latin classes!

Art! A good figure is something that can make your paper, and your reputation. Furthermore, a lot of scientific work today is presented as posters; learn how to do layout properly. I learned that, working on the Yearbook. Likewise, an artistic training is the foundation for how to make a good powerpoint presentation, as opposed to one full of useless and distracting bells and whistles.

These things are essential for a scientific career. (They're also essential for being a well-rounded human being, but that's another issue.) And you learn them now, in high school. You won't have time to get them at MIT, or any other school with a strong science or engineering program.

Thus if you are serious about being a scientist or engineer, then an important thing to do RIGHT NOW in high school is to get a background in the arts and humanities. If possible, take AP courses in them, to get to the same level that most kids get in college. This will mean that you can afford to spend the time at MIT (or wherever) on the techie side without winding up as some one-dimensional supernerd.

Boskone Schedule

Brother Guy's Schedule for Boskone 52

The Cutting Edge

Friday 14:00 - 14:50, Harbor II (Westin)

Panelists discuss scientific and engineering developments that are new or emerging, and then venture into the realm of those that may be just a short step from development. What ideas are within our reach that recently seemed like pure science fiction? And what direction will technology likely take in the future?

Tom Easton (M), Guy Consolmagno, Justine Graykin, Mark L. Olson, Karl Schroeder

Losing True Dark

Friday 16:00 - 16:50, Harbor III (Westin)

With the growth of modern cities, the star-swept sky is vanishing, hidden behind the ever-spreading glare of nighttime light pollution. Has the absence of true dark skewed the impact of the nighttime skies? If so, how might this alter the human imagination? What does it mean for our outlook on the supernatural, our observation of outer space, or even our basic desire to discover what lies beyond our own planet? Has this changed our perception of humanity's place within The Universe?

David L. Clements (M) , James Cambias , James Patrick Kelly, Donna L. Young, Guy Consolmagno

Tall Technical Tales

Friday 18:00 - 18:50, Harbor I (Westin)

What stories do scientists tell when they’ve inhaled too much ethanol? Could they involve exploding particle accelerators or “oops” moments with virulent viruses? Perhaps they’ll explain why you should never operate a centrifuge while under the influence. Find out when our panel of loose-lipped lab rats tells true stories about their work. Oh, and bring your own nerdy narratives for our open mic.

David L. Clements (M), Guy Consolmagno, Jordin T. Kare, Joan Slonczewski

From the Earth to the Moon — and Beyond!

Saturday 10:00 - 10:50, Burroughs (Westin)

A hundred and fifty years ago, Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon surveyed the difficulties of building a giant space gun to propel three people to Luna. Fast-forward to today, when NASA is shooting to land people on Mars by 2035. Panelists discuss the challenging realities of space exploration — from getting off the ground to getting there to getting home.

Jordin T. Kare (M), Guy Consolmagno, Jeff Hecht, Walter H. Hunt, Ian Randal Strock

Reading: Guy Consolmagno

Saturday 12:30 - 12:55, Independence (Westin)

Kaffeeklatsch: Guy Consolmagno

Saturday 14:00 - 14:50, Galleria-Kaffeeklatsch 1 (Westin)

The Year in Physics and Astronomy

Sunday 13:00 - 13:50, Marina 4 (Westin)

An annual roundup of the latest research and discoveries in physics and astronomy. Our experts will talk about what's new and interesting, cutting-edge and speculative: the Higgs boson, solar and extrasolar planets, dark energy, and much more besides.

Jeff Hecht (M), Guy Consolmagno, Mark L. Olson , David L. Clements

Rant to journalists

I started out life as a journailst, so I have some sympathy for them. Doing really good journalism is very, very difficult. That is why it is so rare.

But between the Sagan medal, and the new book coming out, and some newsworthy science that I presented last month, I have been getting a spate of requests for interviews. Some have been great, others were... well...

So here are some helpful hints that I am sure no journalist will read, but which let me rant for a minute, to improve the odds that I will be a cooperative subject and that you might get a useful story.

1. Spell my name right... in the email asking for the interview, and of course in the story itself.

2. Presumably you are interviewing me because of my position. So get that position correct. I am a brother, not a priest. If I were a Father then maybe I would have written a book called "Father Astronomer" and maybe would I have an email address that starts with "fatherguy". But I didn't. Wonder why?

3. Do your homework. I have the world's easiest name to Google, so please at least read the Wikipedia article that someone posted about me... and then, ask me if the details there are correct. (Some of them are not. This is Wikipedia, remember?) Find out, before you ask, the things that anyone could find out without reading your article, so that you can write an article with things have not yet been found out.

4. Realize that I can Google you, too. And I will. If I find anything on your page that relates to UFOs, the interview is off. Period.

5. Before asking me about my book, or about any of the topics I cover in my book, read my book. You might even ask my publisher to send you a copy.

Journalists are targets for all kinds of abuse nowadays, often by people who don't want their doings exposed in the public press. Please, we need good journalists and good journalism. Don't enable the abusers by making yourself an easy target for mockery.

Book Day!

The book is officially released today: Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?

As I mentioned on Twitter, it's easy to get a signed copy. First, go to your local bookstore and buy a copy. In fact, buy two, in case of accidents. If they don't have it in stock, you can make it worth their while to special order it by ordering 20 or so. Once you have a copy, then open it up to the title page, take out your favorite pen, and sign your name in it.
(I didn't specify whose signature, after all!)

We've gotten a lot of nice publicity about it; we even made local TV...


I have a book coming out Real Soon Now, and a co-author attached to that book who up to now has lived a peaceful life of relative anonymnity. But he's starting to get the kinds of weird emails that I have been living with for a while now. Seeing that, has made me reflect on the rules of thumb I have invented for myself over the years.

Every stranger who writes to me (and I have the world's easiest name to Google, there's no hiding) deserves one polite answer. This assumes, of course, that they are actually writing to me, not just including me on a spam list. (It's pretty easy to tell the difference.)

After one reply, I simply cannot reply any further except in exceptional cases, because I could not possibly handle the volume of the correspondence. Mind you, one or two such letters a day is all I get -- I am no Scalzi -- but I don't have the personality type to be able to handle, emotionally, talking to more strangers than once or twice a month -- I am no Scalzi.

Furthermore, let me make clear to everyone who writes:

1. No, it is not a meteorite. There are many good sites online to help you see why it is not a meteorite. If you can't figure out how to find them with Google, you can't figure out for yourself that it's not a meteorite.

2. I do not do spiritual direction by email. That's because, first of all, I do not do spiritual direction at all, not even face to face; that's not where my talents and training lie. But in fact, no one can do spiritual direction by email. It takes face-to-face contact to be able to read voice inflections and body language; and it takes living in the same community to be able to understand the subtext of what's being said, in both directions.

3. It wasn't a UFO. If you saw a UFO (and especially if your friend whom you really trust saw a UFO) I don't want to know about it. Yes, I know, some day someone will make contact with the Nebulons from Planet 10 and the human race will never be the same. I do not want to be that person. I suspect, if you thought it through, you would realize that you wouldn't want to be that person, either. If you don't know what I mean, read the book of the prophet Jeremiah.

4. I will not read your manuscript. Join a local writer's group. I will not recommend you to my publisher/agent/editor, either. That's Not My Job. Getting published is a crapshoot. There is no trick or logic. Having a successful book, ditto. There are plenty of sites on line with advice, good or bad, about how to accomplish it. Whatever you do, you won't be able to do what I did (join the Jesuits, get assigned to the Vatican) so I really have no useful experience to pass on to you, in any event.

5. If you send me, unsolicited, a copy of your book I will immediately send it to recycling. Likewise a copy of your video. I will never click on a link you send me, ever. My time is limited, and it's already paid for by other people; you have no right to it.

6. There is no rule six.

(I thank pnh for teaching me the term "microcelebrity")