The Ricard Memorial Observatory

The Ricard Memorial Observatory

By Grace Ogihara ’16

View full image. Color photo of observatory by Majed. Archival photography courtesy SCU Archives and Special Collections

The Ricard Memorial Observatory was completed in 1928 to be used for research by Jerome Sixtus Ricard, S.J., a meteorologist known as Santa Clara’s “Padre of the Rains.” He studied flares on the surface of the sun—and he aspired to have the king of reflector telescopes. A smooth character from Vancouver promised to provide a 60-inch lens. He sent something else entirely. Click on photos to view full images.

PADRE OF THE RAINS Fr. Ricard began making long-range weather predictions in 1907, based on his observations of solar flares. The sunspot theory proved a scientific dead end, but Fr. Ricard used to field calls from sports promoters and Hollywood moviemakers looking for the inside scoop on weather. He died in 1930.

HERE’S THE SCOPE In 1928, the package containing the long-awaited lens from Vancouver arrived. But inside was a 60–inch slab of concrete! The observatory eventually got its first telescope in 1930: an enormous 16-inch Clark refractor, left. And Fr. Ricard recovered the money sent to Vancouver.

SCOPE MAKER Alvan Clark (that’s him, right) & Sons built the telescope in 1882. At the time, the 15-foot-long telescope was the fourth-largest in the world. It was destined for an observatory in Southern California that was destroyed by an earthquake.

The observatory has not been used as such since the early 2000s. Instead, it provides a home for SCU archaeological artifacts and labs—a site for preservation, study, and research.

DOMES, SWEET DOMES The 50-foot central dome of the observatory is flanked by a pair of smaller domes. Astronomy equipment inside includes an an 8-inch Fauth refractor telescope and an equatorial mount to hold a planetarium projector.

COMET SHOEMAKER–Levy 9 broke into pieces and smashed into Jupiter in July 1994. SCU’s telescope allowed a camera to capture unique moments in the series of collisions—including some pieces hitting that no other telescopes recorded.

Another turn? Director and physics professor Phil Kesten has been working with students to try to restore the observatory to its original use. 

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