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When many people hear the words “astronomy” and “the Vatican”, they are reminded of the infamous trial of Galileo, who was forced to recant his championing of the Copernican model and the belief that the earth revolved around the sun. But this Friday, the Vatican will be celebrating the history of astronomy with the new exhibit “Astrum 2009: Astronomy and Instruments. The exhibit is a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first celestial observation.

The exhibit, just one of the many initiatives sponsored by the Vatican in celebration of this anniversary, is seen as a way for the Catholic Church to mend the unfortunate rift caused by the famous Galileo Trial — a trial that many believe proves the incompatibility of science and religion. However, as historians note, the trial resulted from a complicated clash of political factors rather than the overly simplistic idea that science and religion can’t get along. Still, the trial is still often misused as proof that science and religion are at odds.

Tommaso Maccacaro, president of Italy’s national institute of astrophysics, hopes the exhibit will show visitors that telescopes are not just tools of science, but tools of culture as well. Our knowledge of the skies above can also spark a desire to learn about the one who set their creation in motion.

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