George Coyne

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George V. Coyne
Born (1933-01-19) January 19, 1933 (age 86)
ResidenceSyracuse, New York, U.S.
Alma materFordham University (B.S.)
Georgetown University (Ph.D.)
Scientific career
InstitutionsVatican Observatory

George V. Coyne, S.J.[1] (born January 19, 1933) is a Jesuit priest, astronomer, and former director of the Vatican Observatory and head of the observatory's research group which is based at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. Since January 2012, he has served as McDevitt Chair of Religious Philosophy at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY.

Scientific education[edit]

Professor Coyne completed his bachelor's degree in mathematics and his licentiate in philosophy at Fordham University, New York City, in 1958. He carried out a spectrophotometric study of the lunar surface for the completion of his doctorate in astronomy at Jesuit Georgetown University in 1962. He spent the summer of 1963 doing research at Harvard University, the summer of 1964 as a National Science Foundation lecturer at the University of Scranton, and the summer of 1965 as visiting research professor at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (UA LPL).

Priesthood and theological study[edit]

A member of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) since the age of 18, he completed a licentiate in sacred theology at Woodstock College, Woodstock, Maryland, and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1965. Coyne was visiting assistant professor at the UA LPL in 1966-67 and 1968–69, and visiting astronomer at the Vatican Observatory in 1967-68.

Director of Vatican Observatory[edit]

Coyne joined the Vatican Observatory as an astronomer in 1969 and became an assistant professor at the LPL in 1970. In 1976 he became a senior research fellow at the LPL and a lecturer in the UA Department of Astronomy. The following year he served as Director of the UA's Catalina Observatory and as Associate Director of the LPL.

He became Director of the Vatican Observatory in 1978, and also Associate Director of the UA Steward Observatory. During 1979-80 he served as Acting Director and Head of the UA Steward Observatory and the Astronomy Department. As Director of the Vatican Observatory he has been a driving force in several new educational and research initiatives. He spends five months of the year in Tucson as adjunct professor in the University of Arizona Astronomy Department. Coyne was succeeded as Director of the Vatican Observatory by Fr. José Gabriel Funes in August 2006.[2]

Scientific research[edit]

Coyne's research interests have been in polarimetric studies of various subjects including the interstellar medium, stars with extended atmospheres and Seyfert galaxies, which are a class of spiral galaxies with very small and unusually bright star-like centers. Polarimetry studies can reveal the properties of cosmic dust and synchrotron radiation regions in galaxies and other astronomical objects. Most recently he has been studying the polarization produced in cataclysmic variables, or interacting binary star systems that give off sudden bursts of intense energy, and dust about young stars. He also has the asteroid 14429 Coyne, named for him.

He is an active member of the International Astronomical Union, the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America.

Selected papers[edit]

Coyne has published approximately 70 refereed research articles.

Author Title Journal/Book Year
COYNE G.V. and GEHRELS T. Wavelength dependence of polarization. VIII. Interstellar polarization. Astron. J., 71, 355-363 1966
COYNE G.V. and GEHRELS T. Wavelength dependence of polarization. X. Interstellar polarization. Astron. J., 72, 887-898 1967
COYNE G.V. and KRUSZEWSKI A. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XI. Mu Cephei. Astron. J., 73, 20-25 1968
COYNE G.V. and KRUSZEWSKI A. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XVII. Be-type stars. Astron. J., 74, 528-532 1969
COYNE G.V. and WICKRAMASINGHE N.C. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XVIII. Interstellar polarization and composite interstellar particles. Astron. J., 74, 1179–1190 1969
COYNE G.V. Mass exchange in beta Lyrae. Astrophys. J., 161, 1011–1014 1970
CAPPS R.W., COYNE G.V. and DYCK H.M. A model for the observed polarized flux for zeta Tauri. Astrophys. J., 184, 173-179 1973
COYNE G.V. and SHAWL S.J. Polarimetry of R Coronae Borealis at visual light minimum. Astrophys. J., 186, 961-966 1973
COYNE G.V. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XXV. Rotation of the position angle by the interstellar medium. Astron. J., 79, 565-580 1974
COYNE G.V., GEHRELS T. and SERKOWSKI K. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XXVI. The wavelength of maximum polarization as a characteristic parameter of interstellar grains. Astron. J., 79, 581-589 1974
COYNE G.V. Polarimetric observations of R Coronae Borealis stars. IAU Inform. Bull. Var. Stars, 914, 1-2 1974
GEORGE V. and COYNE G.V. Polarimetry in the emission lines of shell stars. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc., 169, part no 16, 7-11 1974
COYNE G.V. Intrinsic polarization of faint members of the Pleiades. Mem. Soc. Astron. Ital., 45, 445-455 1974
COYNE G.V., LEE T.A. and DE GRAEVE E. A survey for H alpha emission objects in the Milky Way. Vatican Obs. Publ., 1, 181-195 1974
COYNE G.V. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XXX. Intrinsic polarization in phi Persei. Astron. J., 80, 702-710 1975
COHEN M., ANDERSON C.M., COWLEY A., COYNE G.V., FAWLEY W., GULL T.R., HARLAN E.A., HERBIG G.H., HOLDEN F., HUDSON H.S., JAKOUBEK R.O., JOHNSON H.M., MERRILL K.M., SCHIFFER F.H., SOIFER B.T. and ZUCKERMAN B. The peculiar object HD 44179 ("The Red Rectangle"). Astrophys. J., 196, 179-189 1975
COYNE G.V., WISNIEWSKI W. and CORBALLY C. A survey for H alpha emission objects in the Milky Way. II Cygnus. Vatican Obs. Publ., 1, 197-212 1975
COYNE G.V. Polarization in the emission lines of Be stars. Astron. Astrophys., 49, 89-96 1976
KRUSZEWSKI A. and COYNE G.V. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XXXI. Cool stars. Astron. J., 81, 641-649 1976
COYNE G.V. and VRBA F.J. Polarization from a dust ring surrounding the peculiar Be star HD 45677. Astrophys. J., 207, 790-798 1976
WISNIEWSKI W. and COYNE G.V. A Survey for H alf emission objects in the Milky Way. III. Cyg. Vatican Obs. Publ., 1, 225-236 1976
WISNIEWSKI W. and COYNE G.V. A Survey for H-alpha emission objects in the Milky Way. IV. Cyg. Vatican Obs. Publ., 1, 245-256 1976
COYNE G.V. and MAGALHAES A.M. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XXXII. Narrow-band polarization effects in cool stars. Astron. J., 82, 908-915 1977
McLEAN I.S. and COYNE G.V. Spectropolarimetry of omicron Ceti (Mira): discovery of polarized Balmer emission. Astrophys. J., 226, L145-L148 1978
COYNE G.V., WISNIEWSKI W. and OTTEN L.B. A survey for Half emission objects in the Milky Way. V. Perseus. Vatican Obs. Publ., 1, 257-265 1978
COYNE G.V., TAPIA S. and VRBA F.J. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XXXIII. The alpha Persei star cluster. Astron. J., 84, 356-369 1979
COYNE G.V. and MAGALHAES A.M. Wavelength dependence of polarization. XXXVI. Changes in polarization across TiO bands in cool stars. Astron. J., 84, 1200–1210 1979
McLEAN I.S., COYNE G.V., FRECKER J.E. and SERKOWSKI K. High-resolution polarization structure of hbet in Be shell stars measured with a new digicon spectropolarimeter. Astrophys. J., 228, 802-808 1979
McLEAN I.S., COYNE G.V., FRECKER J.E. and SERKOWSKI K. Detection of polarization structure across the emission lines of the Wolf-Rayet star HD 50896. Astrophys. J., 231, L141-L145 1979
TOMASZEWSKI L., LANDSTREET J.D., McLEAN I.S. and COYNE G.V. Spectropolarimetry of omicron Ceti around the 1978 maximum. Astrophys. J., 238, 935-940 1980
VRBA F.J., COYNE G.V. and TAPIA S. Observations of grain and magnetic field properties of the R Coronae Australis dark cloud. Astrophys. J., 243, 489-511 1981
MacCONNELL D.J. and COYNE G.V. A survey for H-alpha emission objects in the Milky Way. VI. Revised catalogue of part I-V. Vatican Obs. Publ., 2, 63-72 1983
COYNE G.V. and MacCONNELL D.J. A survey for H-alpha emission objects in the Milky Way. VII. Final zones. Vatican Obs. Publ., 2, 73 1983
WHITE R.E., SHAWL S.J. and COYNE G.V. Discovery of intrinsic polarization in the apparent light of globular cluster red giant stars. Astron. J., 89, 480-486 1984
ASPIN C., McLEAN I.S. and COYNE G.V. CCD observations of bipolar nebulae. III. R Mon/NGC 2261. Astron. Astrophys., 149, 158-166 1985
MAGALHAES A.M., COYNE G.V., CODINA-LANDABERRY S.J. and GNEIDING C. Polarimetric evidence for an evolving circumstellar cloud in L2 Puppis. Astron. Astrophys., 154, 1-7 1986
BOYLE R.P., ASPIN C., COYNE G.V. and McLEAN I.S. CCD spectropolarimetry of a sample of cool variable stars. Astron. Astrophys., 164, 310-320 1986
MAGALHAES A.M., COYNE G.V. and BENEDETTI E.K. Time-dependent spectropolarimetry of the red variable V CVn. Astron. J., 91, 919-924 1986
PIIROLA V., REIZ A. and COYNE G.V. Five-colour (UBVRI) polarimetry of H 0139-68 = BL Hydri. Astron. Astrophys., 185, 189-195 1987
PIIROLA V., REIZ A. and COYNE G.V. Simultaneous five-colour (UBVRI) polarimetry of EF Eri. Astron. Astrophys., 186, 120-128 1987
PIIROLA V., REIZ A. and COYNE G.V. Simultaneous five color (UBVRI) polarimetry of EF Eri. Astrophys. Space Sci., 130, 197-201 1987
PIIROLA V., REIZ A. and COYNE G.V. Simultaneous five color (UBVRI) polarimetry of VV Puppis. Astrophys. Space Sci., 130, 203 1987
MAGALHAES A.M. and COYNE G.V. The circumstellar environment of L2 Puppis. 122nd Symposium of the IAU held in Heidelberg, F.R.G., June 23–27, 1986 Ed. by I. Appenzeller and C. Jordan. Circumstellar matter, 122, 555-556 1987
COYNE G.V., PIIROLA V. and REIZ A. Simultaneous multicolor polarimetry of cataclysmic variables. Bull. American Astron. Soc., 20, 1098 1988
PIIROLA V., COYNE G.V. and REIZ A. Simultaneous UBVRI polarimetry of VV Puppis during an active phase. Astron. Astrophys., 235, 245-254 1990
MINNITI D., COYNE G.V. and TAPIA S. Interstellar polarization in the field of the globular cluster M 22. Astron. Astrophys., 236, 371-377 1990
PIIROLA V., COYNE G.V. and REIZ A. Multicolour photopolarimetry of magnetic cataclysmic variables. Astrophys. Space Sci., 169, 133 1990
VRBA F.J., COYNE G.V. and TAPIA S. Grain properties in the rho Ophiuchi dark cloud. Bull. American Astron. Soc., 23, 1369 1991
MINNITI D., COYNE G.V. and CLARIA J.J. Linear polarization of stars in seven metal-poor globular clusters. Astron. J., 103, 871-890 1992
PIIROLA V., SCALTRITI F. and COYNE G.V. Circumstellar disks deduced from sub-arcsecond polarization observations of two young stars. Nature, 359, 399 1992
SCALTRITI F., PIIROLA V., COYNE G.V., KOCH R.H., ELIAS N.M. and HOLENSTEIN B.D. UBVRI linear and circular polarization of RS CVn type binaries. Astron. Astrophys., Suppl. Ser., 102, 343-360 1993
VRBA F.J., COYNE G.V. and TAPIA S. An investigation of grain properties in the Rho Ophiuchi dark cloud. Astron. J., 105, 1010–1026 1993
PIIROLA V., HAKALA P. and COYNE G.V. The discovery of variable polarization over the 13.9 minute spin period of the intermediate polar RE 0751+14. Astrophys. J., 410, L107-L110 1993
PIIROLA V., COYNE G.V., TAKALO S.J., TAKALO L., LARSSON S. and VILHU UBVRI polarimetry of AM Herculis-type binaries. V. The asynchronous (?) polar BY Camelopardalis (H0538+608). Astron. Astrophys., 283, 163-174 1994
RODRIGUES C.V., COYNE G.V. and MAGALHAES A.M. Dust in the SMC: dust models from interstellar polarization and extinction data. Bull. American Astron. Soc., 26, 1391–1392 1994
RODRIGUES C.V., MAGALHAES A.M., COYNE G.V. and PIIROLA V. Dust in the Small Magellanic Cloud: interstellar polarization and extinction. Astrophys. J., 485, 618-637 1997
PIIROLA V., BERDYUGIN A., MIKKOLA S. and COYNE G.V. Polarimetric study of the massive interacting binary W Serpentis: discovery of high-latitude scattering spot/jet. Astrophys. J., 632, 576-589 2005
PIIROLA V., BERDYUGIN A., COYNE G.V., EFIMOV Y.S. and SHAKHOVSKOY N.M. UBVRI polarimetry of the massive interacting binary SX Cassiopeiae: modeling the electron-scattering circumstellar envelope. Astron. Astrophys., 454, 277-286 2006

Intelligent design[edit]

Coyne has been a vocal opponent of intelligent design since at least August 2005, when he was published in The Tablet.[3] This opposition was further publicized in November 2005, when he was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying "Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be. If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."[4] He was also interviewed for the BBC documentary A War on Science where he criticized intelligent design as being unscientific,[5] and suggested that the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn was pressured by the think-tank the Discovery Institute to publish an article in the New York Times critical of evolution.[6]

Coyne has been forthright in criticizing the Church's lukewarm admission of responsibility for its prosecution of Galileo in the early seventeenth century.[7]


He retired from the position[clarification needed] in 2006, at the age of 73, and was replaced by the Argentine astronomer José Gabriel Funes. As this followed closely Coyne's prominence in the debate over intelligent design, speculation arose that he was replaced due to his criticism of it and its supporters, particularly Cardinal Schönborn, a friend of Pope Benedict XVI.[8] During a 2008 interview with Richard Dawkins, Coyne praised a pre-publication version of a new book by Schönborn. Coyne summarizes the book as a distinction by Schönborn between evolution and "evolutionism", the latter of which extends evolution beyond the science and into reductionist judgements of human worth. Coyne states that the controversy would not have arisen had Schönborn shared those views before.[9]

In a statement to the Arizona Daily Star, Funes publicly rejected the idea that Coyne's retirement relates to his views on Intelligent Design.[10] Coyne himself has said the idea was "simply not true".[11]

Coyne was featured in the movie Religulous, by political commentator Bill Maher, commenting that all of the scriptures are written around/between 2000 BC and 200 AD, and modern science has only come into existence in the last couple hundred years, and thus the scriptures in no way contain any science and should not be taught as such. He said:

"How in the world could there be any science in Scripture? There can not be, 'cause the two historical periods (Scripture and Modern Science) are separated by so much. The Scriptures are not teaching science. It's very hard for me to accept not just a literal interpretation of Scripture, but a fundamentalist approach to religious belief. It's kind of a plague. It presents itself as science, and it's not."

Coyne was granted an honorary doctorate by Le Moyne College of Syracuse, NY, a Jesuit institution, on May 17, 2009 in recognition of "his tireless effort to promote an open dialogue between philosophy, theology, and the sciences" as part of his work "to bridge the gap between faith and science."[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coyne, G.V.; Jacobsen, S.D. (22 August 2014). "Dr. & Fr. George V. Coyne, S.J.: McDevitt Chair of Religious Philosophy, Le Moyne College". In-Sight (5.A).
  2. ^ "Catholic Culture : Catholic World News Feature Stories : Controversial Jesuit astronomer replaced at Vatican observatory". Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  3. ^ Coyne, George (2005-08-06). "God's chance creation". The Tablet. Archived from the original on February 20, 2006. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  4. ^ "Vatican official: 'Intelligent design' isn't science". USA Today. 2005-11-18. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  5. ^ "BBC - Science & Nature - Horizon". Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  6. ^ "Finding Design in Nature". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  7. ^ Coyne, G (2005). "The Church's Most Recent Attempt to Dispel the Galileo Myth". In McMullin E. The Church And Galileo (Studies in Science and the Humanities from the Reilly Center for Science Technology and Values). University of Notre Dame Press. pp. 340–359. ISBN 0-268-03483-4.
  8. ^ Caldwell, S (2006-08-23). "Pope sacks astronomer over evolution debate". Mail Online. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  9. ^ Dawkins, R (2008-12-09). "Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  10. ^ Sorenson, D (2006-08-29). "Observatory exit not about evolution". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  11. ^ "Vatican Observatory head rebuts suggestions that he was fired". Catholic News Service. 2006-09-11. Archived from the original on 2006-09-12. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  12. ^ Le Moyne College (2009-05-17). "59th Commencement Program". p. 35.