The sky is the limit at the Mary Aloysia Hardey RSCJ Observatory

The sky is the limit this year at Sacred Heart Greenwich’s Mary Aloysia Hardey RSCJ Observatory.  Clear skies reward a spectacular view of the sky for students, faculty, and family to observe on Thursday nights between 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m..  With new technology and capabilities, Astronomy Technician Mr. Rick Bria and Upper School Science and Astronomy Teacher Mr. Robert Morrow have recently been able to take observation and photography of the sky to the next level, observing asteroids and objects such as asteroid Bellona and the Orion Nebula.

With the recent update of the observatory, Mr. Bria and Mr. Morrow are just beginning to increase use of the new equipment.  Currently, they have been using the telescopes primarily for visual observations of the sun during the daytime hours.  During the nighttime hours, they have been able to view the moon, double stars in binary star systems, nebulae, galaxies, and planets.

To complement Mr. Morrow’s visual observations, Mr. Bria is able to successfully record and collect data on occultations of stars by asteroids.  Together, they have been completing digital imaging of the sun with the new Hydrogen Alpha (Ha) solar telescope that is used exclusively for solar observations.  With these advanced capabilities, Mr. Morrow explained how members of the Sacred Heart community will be able to delve deep into collecting data and images.

A photo of the Orion Nebula taken from the Mary Aloysia Hardey Observatory.  Courtesy of Mr. Rick Bria.

“A particular area of interest as this year progresses will be collecting data on possible exoplanets orbiting target stars identified by NASA,” Mr. Morrow said.  “Our hope is to have students become involved with this research and share their data with other individuals and organizations that are completing similar research and data collection.  The resulting data from multiple sources can potentially be used to confirm the existence of exoplanets that are orbiting the target stars.”

It is difficult for the human eye to perceive colors at dim light levels.  The old telescope did not enhance images of the sky to compensate for the distance and light barriers that stand in the way of the viewer.  However, the observatory’s new telescope captures images that are brighter and clearer.

Among these new images is the Orion Nebula, a giant cloud of hydrogen and helium gas 1400 light years away from Earth where stars are forming.  From the observatory, viewers can see subtle wisps and arcs of different textures, as Mr. Bria described.  The nebula is 1,500 light-years away from Earth, making it the closest large star-forming region to the planet, and giving it a relatively bright apparent magnitude of 4, according to  The nebula unleashes ultraviolet light which digs through the nebula.

“The telescope is new, and we haven’t looked at many objects yet, I would say the Orion Nebula view was most monumental so far,” Mr. Bria said.

Objects that exist deep in space appear very faint from the Earth.  In order to capture them, it is necessary to take long exposures of them in cameras.  Additionally, due to the Earth’s constant rotation, it can be difficult to photograph a moving target.  The new telescope at the observatory has made it easy to track objects with improved accuracy and record them with longer exposures not possible before.

December 11, 2018, Mr. Bria was part of a five-member team that observed the “Bellona occultation” at the Sacred Heart observatory, the first team observation of asteroid Bellona in 16 years.  Upon observing, occultation times from different locations were added together and produced a “statistical silhouette” of the asteroid.  The result refines Bellona’s size, shape, and position.

The observatory’s new telescope has many different functions and capabilities.  Courtesy of Mr. Rick Bria.

“I think it’s very rewarding to contribute data to science.  When we recorded asteroid Bellona occulting a star and submitted our data to the International Occultation and Timing Association, we increased our knowledge of that asteroid,” Mr. Bria said. “It was a thrill to hunt asteroid Bellona down and record it, knowing not many are able to do so.  Finding a small asteroid among the stars is like finding a needle in a haystack.  Our new telescope can find objects with extreme accuracy. This new pointing accuracy opens up many possibilities for research.”

The telescope in the observatory is really three telescopes in one: the main 14-inch diameter Dall-Kirkham, a piggybacked 85mm diameter TeleVue refractor and an 80mm diameter Lunt solar telescope.  


With this new technology, Mr. Bria hopes to continue making new discoveries and monumental viewings, as well as continue to engage Sacred Heart students in astronomy.

“We plan on taking observations and pictures of the sky to the next level,” Mr. Bria said.  “We plan, and hope, that students will operate the observatory during the day while viewing the Sun with our new solar telescope and at night doing research for an astronomy class.”

Faculty members that teach at all levels of the school have been able to bring students out to the observatory starting at the end of October when the upgraded equipment became operational.  Mr. Bria and Mr. Morrow have been able to have a wide range of classes visit the observatory to learn about its capabilities and equipment, as well as make solar observations.

“There are various aspects of astronomy that are part of many science courses, from direct connections of learning about the solar system and the universe to more indirect connections of understanding the energy that the life on Earth requires for its existence and how it is produced by the sun,” Mr. Morrow said.  “There is also a much wider range of connections that can be made with astronomy and the use of the observatory for many different courses and areas of study, including the performing and visual arts, mathematics, literature, world languages, and theology.”