Chris Graney, an astronomer and historian of science at the Vatican Observatory, was awarded the 2021 Nelson H. Minnich Prize for his work investigating the nuances of the Galileo affair.
The Minnich Prize is given for the best article published in the Catholic Historical Review, a quarterly journal of the Catholic University of America Press.
Graney, public relations officer at the Vatican Observatory Foundation, was given the award for his article “Galileo between Jesuits: The Fault is in the Stars.”
Galileo and his opponents: The discussion was a lot more interesting than what we might think!
“My research,” explained Graney in an interview on EWTN, “is regarding Galileo Galilei … and some of his Jesuit astronomer critics.”
“My area of interest is Galileo and his opponents—the people who he was arguing with, what did they have to say? It turns out that what they have to say is a lot more interesting than than what we might think. It’s a very complex and and dynamic argument.”
“It tells us something about how science works,” Graney continued. “We see just how complicated it can be to answer even relatively simple scientific questions.”
The committee which awarded Graney the Minnich prize wrote that “Graney brilliantly demonstrates that the Copernican view of the nature and size of the stars, which was abandoned not long after Galileo’s death, led many scholars to reject heliocentrism. Thus, the church opposed Galileo not just on theological but on scientific grounds.
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Graney is to be commended for showing that there is more nuance to one of the most famous confrontations in the history of the church than scholars have hitherto supposed.”
What’s happening at the Vatican Observatory?
Graney also discussed other work going on at the Vatican Observatory
He mentioned a new model proposed by Fathers Gabriele Gionti S.J and Matteo Galaverni, an astronomer and associate astronomer, respectively, of the Vatican Observatory, which seeks to describe, using mathematics, how gravity would have functioned in the midst of what is known as “cosmological inflation,” i.e. the rapid expansion of the universe during and after the Big Bang.
“They discovered some problems with existing ideas about gravity at the very beginning of time when the universe was very compact,” Graney said, adding that they “have worked through the problems and proposed a new alternative.”
With roots dating to 1582, the Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest active astronomical observatories in the world.
Its headquarters are in Castel Gandolfo, a town just outside Rome and the location of the summer residence of the popes. The Vatican Observatory also operates the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, located in rural Arizona about 200 miles southeast of Phoenix.