Kim Tait from the Royal Ontario Museum holding a slice of shergottite meteorite. Photo by Michael Swan

Rocks and the Vatican: A heavenly match

  • May 23, 2019

Kim Tait is not your typical rock star. 

The Royal Ontario Museum’s chief mineralogist curates the ROM’s significant collection of far out rocks — the ones that have arrived on Earth from outer space with a thud.

Tait sports a bumper sticker on her office door that reads, “My other vehicle zaps rocks on Mars,” with an illustration of a Mars Rover.

On May 30 Tait will explore the ultimate meaning of space rocks as she runs through what she learned from a recent trip to the Vatican Observatory to discuss trade secrets with meteorite curators from around the world. 

The free (with admission) lecture on “Science at the Vatican” starts at 11 a.m. in the ROM’s Eaton Theatre in Toronto.

Tait admits she was surprised to learn of the Vatican’s enduring interest in outer space and its world-class collection of meteorite samples.

“I was very surprised that the Vatican would even have meteorites. That is something that never would have occurred to me prior to taking on this job,” Tait told The Catholic Register. “Not only do they have a meteorite collection, they have one of the most important meteorite collections in the world, because they’ve been collecting for a very long time.”

While visiting the Vatican Observatory, Tait inspected a meteorite that entered the Vatican collection in 1492. Vatican documentation of its collection even includes an historic tapestry illustrating a meteor shower. According to the Observatory, it has more than 1,100 meteorites totalling nearly 150 kilograms.

The Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo has a small plaque on the side of the building that reads Deum Creatorum Venite Adoremus — “Come let us adore God the Creator.”

“This is our mission, our reason for existence,” explains Jesuit Br. Bob Mackie, curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory. 

While the old observatory in the hills near Rome is no longer scientifically useful because of light pollution, the Jesuits continue to work away at the science of the universe at their observatory near Tuscon, Ariz., and in collaboration with observatories and scientists around the world.

“The reason we do our science is that by studying this marvellous universe that we live in we can better appreciate the God who created it,” explains Mackie in an introductory video.

The thing about meteorites is that they still have a lot to teach us about how the solar system and the universe was formed, said Tait.

“We don’t even know how our moon was formed. These are fundamental questions,” Tait said. “We need to know a lot more about these planets. We don’t even know how our own planet formed, for goodness sake. … We have a lot to learn.” Tait isn’t Catholic, but she’s discovered she has common ground with Catholics in her interest in the meaning and origins of our world.

“I would say, generally people don’t think about religion and science maybe being on the same side of the fence, perhaps,” she said. “How did we come to be is, I think, ultimately the question.”

Comments (1)

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What an experience that must have been. Keep up the fascinating work and keep finding answers for some of our mysteries in science. Good work.

Vona Edgar
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