Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory was the first astronomical observatory in Arizona.  In 1894, Dr. Percival Lowell, a mathematician and amateur astronomer from Massachusetts, was one of several astronomers in search of clearer skies through which to observe the planets and stars. Flagstaff, Arizona, with its dark skies and high elevation was an ideal location.  Spurring Dr. Lowell on was the knowledge that Mars would soon be at its closest point to the earth: an ideal time to continue the study of the "Martian" planet more closely. Percival Lowell assembled a small staff, borrowed two telescopes and commenced observations. Two years later, he ordered and installed the specially designed 24-inch Alvan Clark refracting telescope. For many years, the Clark telescope was the major research tool of the Observatory. Percival Lowell used it himself, and his many hours of observing Mars through the Clark Telescope resulted in many drawings of "Mars Globes" that today are considered a piece of history.  The Clark Telescope is still in use today as part of the observatory's educational outreach program for the general public. Because it was one of the first telescopes of its kind in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it is considered a National Historic Landmark. Today, Lowell astronomers observe at modern facilities on Anderson Mesa, 15 miles south of Flagstaff, where the skies are yet a little darker. 

Although Percival Lowell founded the Observatory primarily to explore the possibility that intelligent life might exist on Mars, the Observatory's research quickly expanded into other areas, resulting in one of its most important discoveries by V.M. Slipher: first evidence that the universe is expanding (1912 - 1917). In addition, in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh, an amateur astronomer from Kansas, completed a search started by Lowell some 25 years prior: the search for the ninth planet. Clyde Tombaugh's discovery of the planet, later to be named Pluto by a young English girl, took place on February 18, 1930. It is the only planet to be discovered in the United States and North America. Pluto has since been downgraded from a planet to a new class of orbiting bodies called "plutonians" or "dwarf planets."  Other noteworthy discoveries that have taken place at Lowell Observatory include the discovery of the rings of Uranus, and the continuing search and discovery of numerous asteroids, near earth asteroids, comets, Kuiper Belt Objects, and extra-solar planets. 
Below are pictures that I took on a trip to Lowell Observatory.  You can visit the observatory for more information by clicking here.


These pictures are of the A. Lawrence Lowell Telescope and Pluto Building.  It was in this building and from this telescope that the Planet Pluto was discovered on February 18, 1930.  The telescope is a triple lens, 13-inch astrograph.  The telescope would take pictures and expose the light on glass plates.  Notice the boxing glove in pictures 1 and 3 - it was added to prevent visitors from getting knocked out when hitting their head on the long knob!

These pictures are of the Slipher Building and Rotunda Library.  The building aligns with the sun's rising and setting on the spring and autumnal equinoxes.  The machines in the pictures are the Blink Comparator (picture 3 - used to find Pluto) and the Spectrograph (picture 4 - used to determine the red shift of galaxies by Vesto Slipher).  Incidentally, in picture 2 of the building, you will see a Ponderosa Pine which is what all of the buildings housing the telescopes are made from.  By counting the tree rings of this tree, it was found that this particular tree was "born" the same year that George Washington was born - 1732.   The study of tree ring dating is called Dendrochronology.

Clark Telescope and building.  The lens caps of the telescope are nothing fancy.  They are simple aluminum cooking pots that Mr. Lowell "stole" from his wife's kitchen!

Clark Telescope and building.  Notice the Ponderosa Pine of the dome in picture 2.  The dome weighs 8 tons and is moved by 1954 Ford pickup truck tires.  The telescope itself is 32 feet long, made of rolled steel and weighs 6 tons.  Despite the weight, the telescope is moved quite easily by hand!

Iron Meteorite from Meteor Crater.


Percival Lowell's Mausoleum.  Notice the blue cobalt tiles under the glass dome. A view of the city of Flagstaff from Lowell Observatory. Solar cells for power.


Stone Water Tower and McAllister Observatory.  The Water Tower was built when it became inconvenient to continue having horses bring water up the mountain in 1902.  The McAllister Observatory is used for public education.

Sun telescope.


Tree rings from a Ponderosa Pine.


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