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The Jesuit astronomer is working to unlock the secrets of galactic evolution

ANN ARBOR, Michigan – Jesuit father Richard D'Souza finds Halo's fascinating.

Galactic halos, that is. Not the angelic variety.

It is fascinating to the astronomer of the Vatican Observatory that these halos of stars that collapsed and collapsed from another galaxy into another can provide clues to the billion-year history of a galaxy.

D & # 39; Souza, a post-graduate student at the University of Michigan since 2016, studies the evolution of galaxies. His focus was on the neighbor of the Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy, which is listed as M31 in the catalog of astronomical objects of the French comet hunter Charles Messier key element of Andromeda's past.

In an article published last July in the journal Nature Astronomy, D & # 39; Souza and his colleague Eric Bell, an astronomer at the University of Michigan, hypothesized that M31

was the third largest member of the United States until about 2 billion years ago Local Group – an assemblage of galaxies, including our Milky Way and Andromeda, traveling together through the Universe and interacting with each other over time.

The two astronomers – who have a cordial friendship and a professional relationship dating back to the early 2000s They studied at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Andromeda's halo indicates that another Messier object, M32, was devoured by the more massive M31, a period of about 3 to 4 billion years.

D & Souza discovered clues in Andromeda's halo and found stars with a higher level of metallicity – elements heavier than hydrogen and helium – that corresponded to the chemical composition of the stars in the remnants of M32.

Accessing simulations of galaxy collisions and analyzing data for months, D & # 39; Souza and Bell developed a paper outlining how likely it is that the massive M31 is essentially the smaller M32 – which they call M32p, that is, the precursor – designated – spits out its galactic nucleus, which continues to circle Andromeda.

The idea aroused the imagination of the mainstream media, who widely reported their hypothesis, but not so much in the astronomical community, as D & # 39; Souza told Catholic News Service in an interview In the office he shares with other researchers. Some astronomers who studied M31 liked the idea and understood the research that led to the hypothesis. others strongly disapproved.

"I have actually lectured in various (astronomical) departments," said D'Souza. "As soon as they see the evidence, they say," Wow, that's great. "Until then they will not see it."

Bell said the reaction was not important, but the process of developing the paper offered An opportunity to work closely with D & # 39; Souza while learning a lot was the best result of the collaboration.

Whatever the reaction, the newspaper helped spread D & # 39; s Souza's name. That's good for an astronomical career, said Jesuit brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory.

"Now he's well established in research that he can do it anywhere," said Consolmagno.

That's exactly what D predates, "Souza, approaching the end of his three-year stay in Michigan. In June he will travel to the headquarters of the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo (Italy) to join a small team of astronomers. He plans to learn Italian as he continues his work on the galactic evolution.

D Souza was interested in science as a young student in India, and at one point even mentioned his Jesuit superiors, who were leading his novitiate to work for the Vatican Observatory. This dream was not realized until 2016, when Consolmagno appointed him to the bar and offered to assist his postdoctoral work in Michigan.

"He's someone we've known for 20 years," Consolmagno said CNS . "He's brilliant, he's one of the brightest types we've seen in a long time."

Despite his love for astronomy, D & # 39; Souza has found his pastoral duties as priests to nourish his soul.

While he is in Ann Arbor, D & S Souza celebrates the Mass at the St. Mary's Student Parish weekend, just a few blocks from the campus, saying he was engrossed in the preparation of the liturgy and spending hours with it

"I learned here in Ann Arbor that my biggest support system was the church," said D'Souza, "and what I found to be at least in St. Marys was a great challenge to preach on Sundays because you simply could not keep your usual sermon. You had to think, you had to inspire, you had to understand the reality: what happens in the world, what happens in American politics. "

Born into a Catholic family in Pune, India, in the western state of Goa. In 1978 D & # 39; Souza grew up in Kuwait, where his parents, Joseph and Mary, had emigrated to work. They raised their sons, Christopher and Richard, in an Indian neighborhood where their parents kept their children under strict control because the freedom of the Indians was limited.

In 1990, the D & # 39; Souzas fled the US-led Gulf War in Kuwait With thousands of other Indians, they spent three weeks in a refugee camp in Jordan before returning to their homeland. "It was a bit traumatic. You lose everything. They take two or three bags, "said D'Souza.

He enrolled at the Jesuit St. John de Britto High School, named after a Portuguese missionary and martyr. There, the future priest was introduced to the Jesuit charisma and captivated by the mission history of the Order. After graduating, he joined the Jesuit Noviciate at the age of 17.

The young D'Souza soon realized that many of the Jesuits were more involved in everyday life than in the excitement he had envisioned as a missionary. "(Soon, though), I realized that they were not in their history," he told CNS . "I realized that there is the potential to do the extraordinary."

Three months after his novitiate began, D'Souza's older brother died after becoming infected with an unusual malaria form. "I felt the pain of my parents," he said. They insisted, however, that he continue on his chosen path.

During his training, which led to his ordination in December 2011, D'Souza studied physics at St. Xavier University in Mumbai, India, and at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. He also holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy and theology, which prepared him for the priesthood, and a doctorate in astronomy, which was acquired in 2016.

Part of His Job Prepared to Become a Priest The short-lived Community College in Belgaum, India, established a community theology program in Goa.

D & S Souza sees his upcoming appointment to the Vatican Observatory as a great addition to his vocation as a priest. In both areas he sees a call to search for meaning and understanding of God's creation, he said.

And he saw no conflict in both roles, to whose occupation he was called.

"We are looking for something beyond us", he quoted the Jesuit father Karl Rahner. "The transcendent thing you can have is God. … Astronomy is the most transcendent of the sciences and yet the most physical, and that is perhaps why it has long fascinated everyone in history. "

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