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Matthew Pinson SJ at the Vatican Observatory (Australian Jesuits/Matthew Pinson SJ)

When is an astronomer not really an astronomer? When he has trouble distinguishing Venus from Sirius. But Matthew Pinson SJ explains why that didn’t cloud his recent experience at the Vatican Observatory Summer School. Source: Australian Jesuits.

There’s plenty of dark sky around Cowra, a town of 9000 people in the central west of New South Wales. So as a child travelling home from barbecues, bonfires or bush dances, I would often look out the car window at the starry sky.

“Dad, why do the trees go past as we drive along, but the moon seems to travel along with us?”

Even with Dad’s explanation, I was just eight years old and only had a basic understanding of parallax, but my method of scientific enquiry was already established. Leaving aside the beauty and grandeur of what is present in nature, I dedicate myself to asking why the universe appears the way it does.

So, earlier this (northern hemisphere) summer, I felt like something of an imposter, turning up at the Vatican Observatory Summer School (VOSS), joining 24 of the finest young astronomers from around the world, when I have trouble distinguishing Venus from Sirius. Fortunately, my love of learning carried me through.

VOSS takes place every two years or so. Its students come from the astronomy departments of universities across the world, and they gather for specialist study in some area of astronomy.

VOSS deliberately gathers a wider geographic distribution of students than is found at many summer schools; our 24 students came from 19 different countries. 

As a Jesuit scientist who has tended to work independently, I found it inspiring to see Jesuits doing science together, as companions in a common work but more importantly as brothers in faith. I’ll draw consolation from that experience as I continue to discern how I’ll make use of my scientific training and outlook in my life and ministry as a Jesuit.

Matthew Pinson is an Australian Jesuit studying theology in Boston as part of his formation for priesthood.


Plenty of ‘scope (Australian Jesuits)