“Doing science” can mean efforts ranging from the billion-dollar efforts of Big Science like the recent discovery of gravitational waves, to the much smaller scale science like the measurements of meteorite properties that Br. Guy does in his small lab at the Vatican Observatory. People often question the monetary cost of these efforts: why does the federal government spend billions looking for something as esoteric as gravitational waves? Why does the Vatican support an astronomical observatory? But these questions mask a deeper question: why do individuals choose to spend their lives in pursuit of pure knowledge? How are these choices made? The motivation behind our choices, both as individuals and as a society, affects the sorts of science that gets done; the kinds of answers that are found to be satisfying; and ultimately, the way in which we think of ourselves.
Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned undergraduate and masters' degrees from MIT, and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona; he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989.
At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, observing Kuiper Belt comets with the Vatican's 1.8 meter telescope in Arizona, and applying his measure of meteorite physical properties to understanding asteroid origins and structure. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of a number of popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and most recently Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? (with Paul Mueller). He also has hosted science programs for BBC Radio 4, been interviewed in numerous documentary films, appeared on The Colbert Report, and for ten years he has written a monthly science column for the British Catholic magazine, The Tablet.
Dr. Consolmagno's work has taken him to every continent on Earth; for example, in 1996 he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with a NASA team on the blue ice regions of East Antarctica. He has served on the governing boards of the Meteoritical Society; the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (of which he was chair in 2006-2007); and IAU Commission 16 (Planets and Satellites). In 2000, the Small Bodies Nomenclature Committee of the IAU named an asteroid, 4597 Consolmagno, in recognition of his work. In 2014 he received the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences for excellence in public communication in planetary sciences.