Vatican Observatory Celebrates Mars Landing

Jesuit Father Jose Gabriel Funes, head of the Vatican Observatory, cheered the successful landing of a roving scientific laboratory on Mars, saying that the Church “is open” to whatever might be discovered there – even extra-terrestrials!

"Curiosity" - NASA's Mars Rover

“I think everybody should be happy with the success of [the start of] this mission,” Father Funes told Vatican Radio today. “We now have to wait for results, to see if we can learn more about Mars and the possibility of organic elements on the surface of Mars.”

Father Funes was commenting on the successful landing of NASA’s new science rover “Curiosity” which landed on the Martian surface at 1:32 a.m. EST on Monday morning.

Launched on November 26 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the lab took eight months to reach Mars, traveling 352 million miles before piercing the planet’s thin atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour – or 17 times the speed of sound – before beginning a risky descent to the surface. It’s precise location is not yet determined but NASA has said it came to rest within the planned landing zone near the foot of a tall mountain rising from the floor of Gale Crater in Mars’ southern hemisphere.

After two weeks of testing to ascertain the lab’s condition, it will begin a two year mission of exploration, with its main objective to search out any signs of life that could determine if the planet is habitable.

Father Funes says Catholics and believers in general should not fear these kinds of advances in science or even the results of the search for extra-terrestrial life.

” . . . (W)e are not afraid of science, we are not afraid of new results, new discoveries,” he said, adding that the Church is deeply committed to scientific research. “That’s the reason why the [Holy See] has an observatory,” he said. “Whatever the truth might be, we are open to new results, once they are confirmed by the scientific community.”

In 2008, Father Funes told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that we cannot rule out the idea that God may have created intelligent beings in outer space, and that this is a real possibility.

“Astronomers contend that the universe is made up of a hundred billion galaxies, each of which is composed of hundreds of billions of stars,” he explained. “Many of these, or almost all of them, could have planets. [So] how can you exclude that life has developed somewhere else?”

But would the existence of other intelligent life-forms contradict Christian belief?

“As there exist many creatures on earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God,” he said. “This doesn’t contradict our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God. To say it as St. Francis [of Assisi], if we consider some earthly creatures as ‘brother’ and ‘sister,’ why couldn’t we also talk of an ‘extraterrestrial brother’? He would also belong to creation.”

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