Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stairway to heaven

On November 8, 1971, the British rock group Led Zeppelin released “Stairway to Heaven”, which subsequently was called “the greatest rock song of all time”. Although it’s a bit long, at roughly 10 minutes, it’s worth listening to again (just for old times sake, you know):

stairway to heaven

The song came to mind the other day, when we received our latest copy of Arizona Highways in the mail. Both of us were surprised to learn that the Vatican, of all places, has a telescope in Arizona. The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope is located is located on the top of Mount Graham, just a little north and east of Tucson. The mountain is one of the highest in Arizona, with a summit that is 10,695 feet above sea level. By a happy coincidence, it also happens to be a sacred Apache Peak, which should make it a very spiritual place indeed.

It’s purpose, according to Pope John Paul XXIII, is to explain the church to scientists, and to explain science to the church. According to its current vice director, Father Paul Gabor, it has been much more successful at the first goal than of the second.

The original Vatican telescope was established near St. Peter’s basilica in 1891. Eventually, light pollution caused it to move (in the 1930’s) to Castel Gandolfo , the papal summer residence, which is about 25 miles outside of Rome. Eventually, that location was also compromised by light pollution, and other locations (including Sardinia) were considered.

During the reign of Pope John XXIII, Father George Coyne was the Vatican Observatory’s director, and he also was the acting director of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory. Due to his strong connection to Arizona, the Vatican observatory was moved to the Tucson area roughly 50 years ago.

There are countless ways to get to heaven. If you’re smart, though, you’ll likely want to consider a starting point that is 10,000 feet closer to your ultimate destination than many other places in America.

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