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Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Wednesday, 22 September 2010 17:31 UK
Vatican Astronomer opens Cannock Civic Observatory
Jozef Lopuszynski, Freelance contributor

Brother Guy Consolmagno (Copyright Jozef Lopuszynski 2010)
Brother Consolmagno was able to try out the telescopes for himself

An observatory containing the largest collection of telescopes in the Midlands is being described as a major advance for astronomers in the county.

The Cannock Civic Observatory was being officially opened by the Vatican Astronomer, Brother Guy Consolmagno.

Based at Cardinal Griffin Catholic High School it includes a pair of domes as well as two other equipped units.

One of the domes is named after Charles Adshead Loxton, who had an observatory in Cannock in the late 19th Century.

Project

Head of the project John Armitage said: "This truly is a civic facility and one of which we can all be proud. There will be opportunity for the wider community to use the equipment under our guidance and find out more about the universe.

"And… to have the Pope's astronomer officially opening the observatory has been really special."

The fact that Brother Consolmagno was at the opening at the same time as the Pope's visit to the UK was coincidental, said Michael Burrowes, headteacher at the school.

"For us at Cardinal Griffin Catholic High School it really was a case of 'having your cake and eating it'," he added.

Vatican Astronomer

Brother Consolmagno, a former NASA scientist, who was famously on the commission that recommended that Pluto no longer be called a planet, said he was impressed with the observatory.

He also gave a talk to the pupils about the role of the Catholic Church in the field of astronomy down the centuries.

Speaking to BBC Stoke & Staffordshire, he said: "We're all under one sky, and that's one of the most beautiful things about it because you don't have to have a PhD, or belong to the right faith, or have gone to the right school to be able to look up at the sky and go 'Wow! This is wonderful!'"

He praised the staff and pupils at the school: "They're wonderful. They were fascinated by the questions. They laughed at my jokes, which shows how intelligent they are (!), and I'm just always fascinated to come to a part of Britain (like a school) that as an American, I don't normally get to see.

"This is not the tourist part of England. This is the real England, and to see the faces on these kids, to see the fascination they have and the enthusiasm they have for science, it's just thrilling."

Courses

The observatory will be available to the school and the wider community with educational courses running through the year.

County council chairman Erica Bayliss, head of project John Armitage, Dr Guy Consolmagno and county councillor Pat Corfield (Copyright Jozef Lopuszynski 2010)
County council chairman Erica Bayliss, head of project John Armitage, Dr Guy Consolmagno and county councillor Pat Corfield show off the plaque which will be attached to the building

Some of the work on the building was made possible after the intervention of county councillor Pat Corfield who put in £3,000 from his Local Community Fund allocation.

Some of the observatory equipment had been relocated from nearby Pendrell Hall, the ex-county council adult learning facility which closed recently.

Jozef Lopuszynski (photos copyright)




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