Father McCarthy retired from the Vatican Observatory in February 1999, after over 40 years of service. He is currently at the Campion Health Center, Weston, MA.
McCarthy was born on July 10 1923, in Lowell, Massachusetts. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1940. His Ph.D. in Astronomy was awarded by Georgetown University in 1951. He was ordained a priest in 1954.
Postdoctoral work in astronomy included terms at the Warner and Swasey Observatory at Case Western Reserve University, 1956-57, the University of California at Mt. Hamilton and at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, British Columbia in 1957 and at the University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory in 1958. Since 1958 he has been a staff member of the Vatican Observatory; he has also been a visiting investigator at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington and a visiting astronomer at Palomar Observatory, the Lowell Observatory and at the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory. He has also taught at Georgetown University, first as special lecturer in 1962-63 and later as holder of the Jesuit Chair Visiting Professorship in 1987-1988.
Offices he has held include membership in the executive council of the Italian Astronomical Society, 1969-1971, and in the International Astronomical Union (IAU), including President of the Commission of Photometry and Polarization 1976-1979 and Chairman of the National Committee representing Vatican City State to the Union from 1979-1994. In 1986 he was dean of the Vatican Observatory Summer School and served in 1991 as Dean of the Bishops' Workshop on "Galileo and Galaxies".
Fairfield University in 1991 awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. McCarthy is a fellow of the American Astronomical Society, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Society of Sigma Xi, the American Association for the Advancement of Science , the Italian Astronomical Society and the IAU.
Science Interests: McCarthy has long been involved in the study and classification of carbon stars.
Stars of this type are red stars and were first discovered and by Fr. Angelo Secchi, S.J. at the Collegio Romano in 1868. He found these stars visually with his spectrograph mounted on the great refractor atop the Church of San Ignazio in downtown Rome and he learned to distinguish the carbon stars, which he called Type IV from the oxygen stars which he called Type III. Both types were red stars quite unlike those of type I, the blue stars such as Vega and markedly different from the stars of Type II such as our own sun. Secchi studied differences in the color intensity and in the way the light fell off or increased toward the red or the blue end of the visible (rainbow) spectrum. He was able for the carbon stars to compare the distribution of light with what was noted in the spectra of ground based sources excited in a Bunsen Burner and viewed through the spectroscope. Secchi also noticed that the spectra of carbon stars resembled what he had seen in the spectra of comets. From this he felt enough confidence to ascribe the features noted in Type IV stars to the "reversed spectrum of carbon". We propose to extend Secchi's classification to fainter stars using the advantages of modern instrumentation.
Carbon stars have been detected in our own and in nearby galaxies by using low-dispersion techniques; these usually involved a prism placed over the objective lens of the telescope. A dramatic extension of these surveys to the realms of the nebulae was made in the years 1970 to 1980 by Blanco and McCarthy and other colleagues who in that decade were able to use a combination of a grating and a prism together with a very large reflector (such as the 4-m telescope at Cerro Tololo).