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November 2nd, 2009

Roman Holiday

I am just back to Syracuse (NY) from two days in Rome (Italy). For my non-New Yorker readers I point out that there is also a Syracuse (Italy) and a Rome (New York), neither of which I saw this trip.

The event was the opening of the Vatican's display of antique astronomical instruments, gathered from observatories across Italy (including ours and the Vatican Museum) in honor of the International Year of Astronomy; the gathering was also an official opening of our new headquarters in the Papal Gardens. About 75 astronomers from Italy and around the world, including a number of impressive names, gathered on Friday at the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (a lovely building in the gardens behind St. Peter's) to hear a presentation from John Huchra on telescopes past and future.

Then, after a bit of coffee, we walked over to the audience halls of the Vatican (on a path that takes you underneath the Vatican Museum and past the Sistine Chapel, which is not quite as impressive on the outside as it is on the inside!) where Pope Benedict XVI greeted the astronomers and said a few words about astronomy. He's all for it!

After lunch in the Pope Paul VI auditorium, we then split into three groups to do a round-robin tour of the new exhibit, the Sistine Chapel, and the Tower of the Winds. My task was to be the tour guide to the tower, so I didn't get to see the other spots. (I've seen the Sistine Chapel a few times now, and I'll be back in January to get a look at the exhibit.) So three times I (and a secretary from the Archives) led groups up the stairs to the Tower of the Winds. Yeah, stairs. Quite a few of them. It is a tower, after all... After that, we went into the "Secret Archives" where you can see a bit of the 85 kilometers of shelving. (The name is a bad translation of the Italian which would be better put as "Private Archives" -- the root word is the same as in "secretary" not "top secret.")

For next class: how many terabytes does 85 linear kilometers of shelving represent?

On Saturday, the group came by bus out to Castel Gandolfo. Chris Corbally, Paul Gabor, and I led three groups on a tour through the Papal Gardens -- took about an hour and a half, and we only saw half of them -- ending up at our new headquarters. We were going to do a formal tour of our library, rare books, and meteorites but by then everyone was exhausted so we just let people wander while we served a four course pranzo in the cobblestone courtyard. The weather (in the upper teens Celsius, and sunny) was almost as good as the food.

The group left at around 2:30; by 4:00 I was in the car heading back to the airport. And today I have two classes to teach at LeMoyne College.

(Crossposted at Cosmic Diary)



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