Pope’s Astronomer Wins the Carl Sagan Medal

Brother Guy Consolmagno is first religious brother to receive the prestigious science award.

Pope’s Astronomer Wins the Carl Sagan Medal

On Being CC

If you met an alien from outer space, would you welcome him into your RCIA program and baptize him at the Easter Vigil?  
That’s the question posed by Michigan-born Brother Guy Consolmagno, Jesuit astronomer and planetary scientist, in his latest book, “Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?”  The book, co-authored by Father Paul Meuller, S.J., looks at serious and humorous questions from the astronomers’ in-box at the Vatican Observatory, and reveals how science and faith look at the same issues in different but complementary ways.

The question is a serious one.  Pope Francis made the same point in a homily in May 2014 when he asked, “Imagine if a Martian showed up, all big ears and big nose like a child’s drawing, and he asked to be baptized.  How would you react?”  The Pope was making the point that everyone has a “right” to receive the Holy Spirit—even those, such as big green aliens, who seem not at all like us.

This week at the 46th annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Scientists in Tucson, Arizona, Brother Guy Consolmagno will receive one of planetary science’s most prestigious awards, the Carl Sagan Medal.  The award was created in 1998 in commemoration of astronomer Carl Sagan, whose popular TV series “Cosmos” helped to generate enthusiasm for science and for space travel.  The Sagan Medal “recognizes and honors outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public, and is awarded to scientists whose efforts have significantly contributed to a public understanding of, and enthusiasm for, planetary science.”  

Brother Guy is the first religious brother to receive the Sagan Medal.  The American Astronomical Society, in announcing the award last July, said that Consolmagno "occupies a unique position within our profession as a credible spokesperson for scientific honesty within the context of religious belief."

Consolmagno is one of twelve Vatican astronomers. For two decades, he has served as curator of the Vatican’s extensive meteorite collection.  He’s been a worldwide lecturer, and is one of four Jesuits in history to have had an asteroid named after them—4597 Consolmagno, also known to scientists as “Little Guy.”  

Consolmagno has authored or co-authored several books, including his most recent "Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial" as well as "Turn Left at Orion: Hundreds of Night Sky Objects to See in a Home Telescope—And How to Find Them," "God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion," "The Heavens Proclaim: Astronomy and the Vatican," and "Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist."

Kathy Schiffer is a freelance writer and speaker, and her blog Seasons of Grace can be found on the Catholic Portal at Patheos.  Video courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.