Fr. Juan Casanovas SJ was a Jesuit solar astronomer who served as an astronomer and librarian for the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo from 1976-2009. He helped establish solar observatories in the Canary Islands in the early 1960s.
And now Fr. Casanovas has had an asteroid named after him! Asteroid (620307) Casanovas was announced in the IAU WGSBN Bulletin from Nov. 8, 2023. Fr. Richard P. Boyle S.J. of the Vatican Observatory was one of the co-discoverers of this asteroid!
(620307) Casanovas = 2002 QL149
Discovery: 2012-02-22 / K. Černis, R. P. Boyle * / Mount Graham / 290
Juan Casanovas (1929–2013) was a Jesuit solar astronomer who helped establish solar observatories in the Canary Islands and later served as an astronomer and librarian at the Vatican Astronomical Observatory in Castel Gandolfo. He was also interested in the history of astronomy, in particular calendars.
Citation for asteroid (620307) Casanovas appeared in the IAU WGSBN Bulletin V003_015, released 2023-11-08
[On] April 8 , Father Juan Casanovas, SJ, emeritus member of the Vatican Observatory, returned to the Father’s house.
Born in Catalonia on 10.13.1928, Fr. Juan Casanovas entered the Society of Jesus in 1944. He graduated in Physics in Barcelona in 1957 and studied theology at Weston College, USA in 1960.
After a brief stay at the Ebro Observatory and a year of study at University College in London, he moved to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands where, in addition to holding physics courses and lessons on stellar atmospheres, he founded the solar section of a new observatory, which has now become a European center for astronomical studies.
In 1970 he obtained his doctorate in Physics in Barcelona.
As part of the European JOSO program (Joint Organization for Solar Observations), in collaboration with the Kipenheuer Institut in Freiburg (Germany), he studied the conditions for observations of the Sun on the island of Palma.
Called to the Vatican Specola in 1976, he remained there until 2009. At the Specola he dedicated himself to studies on the history of astronomy, with particular attention to the astronomical tables of King Alfonso the Wise and the founders of modern astronomy: Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Clavius, Riccioli and Secchi.
In recent years he was interested in various historical issues relating to the Gregorian reform of the calendar, studies of ancient astronomy, covering the position of librarian of the Specola from 1995 to 2007. He had been a member of SAIt for a very long time.
In the thirty-three years of service to the Holy See within the Vatican Observatory, Father Casanovas left a precious scientific legacy and an indelible memory.
From: Italian Astronomical Society ( SAIt ) 2013-04-17
Asteroid (620307) Casanovas Orbit and JPL Entry
The following image is a plot of the orbit of asteroid (620307) Casanovas from JPL’s Small Body Database.
Asteroid (620307) Casanovas orbits within the main asteroid belt, with an orbital period of 3.53 years; its orbit is inclined 7° to the plane of the ecliptic. The asteroid was discovered on July 12, 2002.
Fr. Juan Casanovas Mentions and Publications
Paper co-authored by Juan Casanovas: Magnetic aspects of the evolution of sunspots June 1974
A chapter from the book The Heavens Proclaim: Astronomy and the Vatican was written by Fr. Juan Casanovas, S. J.
The chapter gives an explanation of how our religious and civil calendar has changed over time, from the lunisolar Hebrew calendar to the Gregorian calendar, and comments on proposed future reforms.
“Juan was a key member of the Vatican Observatory from the 1970s until his retirement in 2007. He was one of the younger astronomers on staff in 1978 when George Coyne became the director, and thus one of the few from that era who stayed on as George took over. He remained in Castel Gandolfo, holding down the fort — or the Castel, if you will — when most of the the other scientists moved to Tucson to set up the Vatican Observatory Research Group there; he often served in George’s place when George was in Tucson.
“During one famous event in 1985, Juan caught George Coyne in the hallway just as George was leaving to catch a plane to the US. Their conversation went on, and on, and by the time George was on the road the traffic to the airport was impossible. The time of his flight came and went, and frustrated, George turned back to return to the Specola. Only when he got back did he find out that the airport had been attacked by terrorists that morning… thanks to Juan, he had been spared.
“Juan was a proud Catalonian, and willing to discuss politics or calcio (soccer) at the drop of a hat. We would joke that he had the “apostolate of the square”; he would make regular rounds of all the different coffee shops in Castel Gandolfo, each of which had a different leaning when it came to politics or football! But this meant that everyone in town knew him, and through him the Specola. In a culture where personal connections mean everything, this was actually an invaluable work.
“I remember a time after a full Sunday dinner and a few glasses of wine, when, unusually for him, he started talking about growing up in Catalonia as a child under the leftists during the Spanish Civil War… very, very difficult times. That gave him a very distinct perspective on politics and the Church.” – Br. Guy Consolmagno
Asteroids Named for Jesuits
Br. Bob Macke maintains a graphic showing an ever-growing list of Jesuits who have asteroids named after them – he’s beginning to run out of room!