Studying the heavens keeps Jesuit astronomer on the edge of his seat


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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- You could say that for most of his life Jesuit Father George V. Coyne has taken up space. The retired director of the Vatican Observatory, Father Coyne has studied the wonders of outer space for more than 50 years.

Since earning a doctorate for his study of the chemical composition of the lunar surface in 1962, the Pennsylvania native has been a leader in the field of astronomy.

Familiar to astronomers around the world, Father Coyne headed the Vatican Observatory from 1978 until his retirement in 2006 and now is president of the foundation that supports the observatory's work.

The American Astronomical Society recently honored Father Coyne, who turns 77 Jan. 19, with its George Van Biesbroeck Prize for the "diversity and scientific richness" he has brought to astronomy.

In particular, the society cited his leadership of the Vatican Observatory Summer School for up-and-coming astronomers as well as "the unique role he has played at the juncture of science and religion."