Astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger meets with Pope Francis

By: Linda B. Glaser,  Arts & Sciences Communications
December 2, 2016

From Nov. 25-29, Associate Professor of Astronomy Lisa Kaltenegger took part in a plenary session in Vatican City, at one of the oldest scientific academies in the world: The Pontifical Academy of Science. The conference on science and sustainability was entitled “Impacts of Scientific Knowledge and Technology on Human Society and its Environment.”

In addition to Kaltenegger, speakers included Nobel Laureate Saul Perlmutter, Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, and physicist Stephen Hawking. The topics presented at the conference ranged broadly, from earthly concerns about plastics in the ocean to cosmic possibilities like Kaltenegger’s talk on “Thousands of New Worlds.” 

Conference speakers, from left to right: Robbert Dijkgraaf, Jim Peebles, Sir Martin Rees, Saul Perlmutter, Lisa Kaltenegger, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Hertog​. Photo courtesy of the Pontifical Academy of Science

While in Vatican City, Kaltenegger met with Pope Francis, an advocate for the environment. The plenary session program featured his statement that “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” As director of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute, Kaltenegger shares the Pope’s concerns; she notes that “the Institute’s important research not only looks for other worlds like ours, it helps us understand and safeguard our own pale blue dot better.”

Lisa Kaltenegger shaking hands with Pope Francis

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences was initially established in 1603 as the first exclusively scientific academy in the world. It was given its current charter in 1936 by Pope Pius XI:  “to honor pure science wherever it may be found, ensure its freedom and encourage research for the progress of science.” The Academy’s members are chosen from the most eminent scientists and scholars of the mathematical and experimental sciences, with 36 countries currently represented.

Lisa Kaltenegger shaking hands with Pope Francis

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