Vatican Observatory discovery is the latest in a series of important contributions to astronomy | National Catholic Register

VATICAN CITY — Two Italian priests from the Vatican Observatory have discovered a new mathematical approach that will help astronomers better understand how gravity behaved at the time of the Big Bang during the creation of the universe — a new discovery which, they say, “confirms that our universe appears mathematically ordered and harmonious.

In their groundbreaking discovery – the latest in a series of achievements at the Vatican Observatory – Jesuit astronomer Fr. Gabriele Gionti and associate astronomer Fr. Matteo Galaverni used a new mathematical technique to determine the exponential expansion of the universe shortly after the Big Bang – what is known as “cosmological inflation”.

Their results, published in the scientific journal Physical examination D, are “part of a larger effort by the scientific community to understand the earliest moments of our universe,” Fathers Gionti and Galaverni said in comments to the Register and the ANC. “The purpose of the Vatican Observatory is to work with the scientific community to deepen our knowledge of the universe.”

According to a press release from the Vatican Observatory (, scientists have long known about the effects of gravity on large objects in the universe, such as planets and stars, thanks to the theory of gravity. general relativity by Albert Einstein. But they didn’t have an accurate picture of the physics describing the very first moments of the universe.

For this, a theory of quantum gravity was needed – how gravity behaved on a tiny scale (atoms, electrons and quarks). Such a theory could then be combined with Einstein’s general relativity to give a clearer picture of the behavior of gravity at the time of the early universe.

The Vatican Observatory said the new findings from fathers Gionti and Galaverni “do not deal directly with the search for a quantum theory of gravity”, but offer a mathematical formula superior to previous “alternative” theories, such as the “Brans” theory. -Dicke” gravitational theory which “does not always hold” and would only give “approximate” results.

They added that since “cosmological inflation is a consequence of early gravitational fluctuations caused by quantum gravity”, their findings “could have implications in favor of a particular theory of cosmological inflation among the many that have been proposed”. The astronomer-priests said their particular theory “could be used to distinguish between the various possible theories of quantum gravity that have been proposed by researchers.”

The findings are “completely new”, they said, and deemed worthy of publication in a major astronomy journal. But they also said that “this is just part of the much larger scientific effort to understand the universe, with many other scientists also publishing valuable research, all the time.

“To really see the impact of this research, and whether it creates a ‘big’ stir, it will take time, but the Vatican Observatory is very pleased with the publication and to have been able to make this contribution to the scientific knowledge,” they said. .

In a press release, the observatory said the priests’ new perspective “could spark a revolution in our understanding of the early universe”, and in particular “offer a new perspective on previously formulated theories about the rapid expansion universe, especially those of Russian scientist Alexei Starobinsky” (astrophysicist and cosmologist, Starobinsky pioneered the theory of cosmic inflation, along with two other scientists in 2014). added, “they may also advance the search for a more general quantum theory of gravity.”

Confirmation of an ordered Cosmos

Asked what the faithful might take away from this discovery, perhaps about the nature of the universe and God’s creation, Fathers Gionti and Galaverni said it “confirms that our universe appears mathematically ordered and harmonious”. They pointed out that cosmos means “order” in Greek, as opposed to “chaos” which means “disorder”.

“It makes sense for a person of faith to think that this order was created by a benevolent God,” they said. “He created the universe with mathematical order and sent his only begotten Son to perfect it further by taking over this ‘matter’, which is a ‘product’ of that same created universe.”

But they stressed that this is “not proof of the existence of God, but ‘aesthetic’ reasoning, in the sense that from the mathematical beauty of this universe believers are inflamed with a love for God who created this universe out of love”.

“As believers, we know that God created this universe in a relationship of Love with the Son and that Love is in fact the Holy Spirit,” the priests explained. “When you do science, it’s like finding traces of this Love in the universe and therefore a trace of God. This is why we sometimes say that research is a form of prayer.

They recalled the words of the 19th century Catholic astronomer Agnes Clerke, who, as astronomical knowledge grew and evolved rapidly, wrote that even though mankind knows so little compared to what can be known, and even his best ideas today may prove to be wrong, scientific research “is not to be despised, since by it we reach out groping fingers to touch the hem of the garment of the Most High”.

Astronomers said that “the further one advances in the study of the universe, the more one discovers new questions” and that efforts to discover the laws of the universe help “to keep alive the fundamental questions that all men carry in them”. ”

They recalled the words of Pope Francis at the Vatican Observatory in 2014, in which he declared that “only a fraction of the world’s population has access to such knowledge, which opens hearts and minds to the great questions that human beings have always wondered: where do we come from, where are we going, does this universe made up of hundreds of millions of galaxies make sense?

“The search for an answer to these questions can lead us to an encounter with the Creator, the loving Father, for ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28),” the Pope said. .

One of the oldest observatories in the world

The Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world, dating back to the reform of the calendar in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII first consulted astronomers such as the Jesuit Father Christopher Clavius. It has existed in its current form since its institution by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 and has been headquartered at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo since 1935. In 1980, due to light pollution around Rome, another center was was opened at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The observatory says that to this day it strives to remain true to its mission of witnessing how, in the words of Pope Leo XIII in 1891, “the Church and her pastors do not oppose true science and solid, both human and divine, but that they embrace it, encourage it and promote it with all possible commitment.

Professor Christopher Graney, assistant researcher at the Vatican Observatory, recalled a “long tradition” of the Church’s contribution to science and told the Register that Fathers Gionti and Galaverni “are following in the footsteps of other Catholic scientists. who have studied gravity”.

As examples, he cited Fathers Giovanni Battista Riccioli and Francesco Maria Grimaldi, who carried out “the first precision studies of gravity” in the 17th century, and Father Georges Lemaître of Belgium, working from the ideas of ‘Einstein, who developed the Big Bang theory in the 20th century. Father Lemaître’s ideas were later confirmed by the telescopic observations of American astronomer Edwin Hubble.

Over the past 30 years, the Vatican Observatory, through its Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) in Arizona, has been involved in several important contributions to astronomy. These include helping identify galaxies discovered through the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1990s and studying open star clusters in the 2000s. In February, the observatory announced the discovery of a object orbiting the sun at a distance of between 3.3 and 4.8 billion miles, which could help scientists better understand the origins of the solar system.

Graney told the Register that this discovery and the research of Fathers Gionti and Galaverni “certainly helps to remind the world that the Vatican Observatory is here and doing good science.” Three staff astronomers – Observatory Director Graney, Brother Guy Consolmagno and Ileana Chinnici – also recently received prestigious awards for their work.

“So it’s been a good year – and it’s only May,” Graney said. “All of this means it’s a fun time to be at the Vatican Observatory.”

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