Museums in Flagstaff!



     Lowell Observatory was first established in 1894, on Mars Hill overlooking downtown Flagstaff.  After narrowing down his search of possible locations for his observatory,  Bostonian astronomer Percival Lowell chose Flagstaff  for its clear skies, high altitude and clean air.

     The initial telescopes brought in by Lowell were a 12-inch refractor telescope which was leased from Harvard University, and an 18-inch refractor telescope borrowed from John Brashear.  In 1896, these instruments were replaced the 24-inch Clark refractor telescope (purchased for $20,000) which was brought into Flagstaff by train and still in use today for public viewing and education.

     Percival Lowell was a strong proponent of the presence of 'canals' on the surface of Mars, which he perceived of being evidence of technically-advanced life on the red planet.  Before his death in 1916, Lowell spent considerable time studying Mars and made detailed drawings of what he saw.  He published three books on the planet, describing 'non-natural features,' which captured the imagination of the public but raised skepticism with the astronomical society.  The theory of canals on Mars wasn't actually disproved until Mariner 4 was able to visit and photograph the planet in 1965, where they have clear evidence of natural erosion.




     Lowell's greatest contribution to science occurred during the last ten years of his life, during which he searched for "Planet X," a theoretical planet he believed to exist beyond Neptune.  Using a combination of camera and telescope, Lowell searched for the elusive planet from 1914 to 1916.  The Observatory did unknowingly photograph Pluto in March and April of 1915, but it wasn't until 1930 that the planet was officially discovered by Lowell Observatory astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in the locality that was predicted for Planet X.  The name of the planet and its symbol both incorporate the letters "PL" in recognition of Percival Lowell for the contributions.

     Today there are five telescopes in use at Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill, and two of which are used for public education and evening viewing during Flagstaff's crystal clear nights.  The Observatory is still actively used for scientific research, and is open to the public with a museum and guided tours.  Current projects at Lowell Observatory are the search for near-Earth asteroids, survey of the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, a study of the brightness stability of the sun, and investigations of star formations in distant galaxies.





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