Lowell’s Observatory: Where Pluto was Discovered

After are gorgeous day at Grand Canyon National Park we grabbed a quick bite to eat for dinner before heading up to Lowell Observatory. (For our full itinerary of the week CLICK HERE

For those not familiar with Lowell’s Observatory it was here that the controversial planet, well, dwarf planet, Pluto, was discovered. Founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell who decided upon this specific location, Flagstaff, Arizona, due to its high altitude and thin atmosphere, making it ideal for observing the night sky. Percival Lowell was obsessed with Mars, he felt strongly that there was an intelligent life form on Mars and in order to thoroughly study the planet he commissioned Alvan Clark & Sons to build him a 24” refracting telescope which is housed in Clark Dome on Mars Hill, it’s the first large dome you see as drive up the hill.

The dome is constructed from ponderosa pine and rotates with the use of Ford automobile tires on a track, and a simple pulley mechanism is still in place to open the dome. It was here that Percival spent endless hours tracking his observations of Mars. His work even influenced many science fiction writers, including H.G. Wells and his famous 1898 novel, War of the Worlds. Though Percival Lowell’s obsession with Mars was significant it would slowly fall in the shadows of his pursuit for Planet X, a ninth planet in the solar system. Long story short, Percival kept his search quiet because he did not want to be seen as a failure when he couldn’t find the said planet. Sadly, Percival Lowell passed away in 1916 before Clyde Tombaugh (a young astronomer who worked at Lowell Observatory) discovered what is now the dwarf planet Pluto in February of 1930.  And that’s the history of the Observatory in a nutshell. 

And I apologize in advance for the quality of some of my images, most are taken at dusks because this is the perfect place to see the night sky, void of light pollution, and guests are asked to please refrain from using their cell phones and cell phone flashlights, there are dim red lights along the paths to each structure, so safety isn’t of concern. 

When we arrived the first thing we did was attend a Science talk and demo on the Colors of the Cosmos which was extremely informative. Lowell’s educator used gas, fire, and various elements to express how the night sky glows and to educate the audience on the wavelengths and colors of the visible spectrum. 

After the demo and talk were perused the campus, keeping a close eye on the time. We didn’t want to miss out on the Clark Telescope stargazing experience!  Line forms around 8:30pm in front of the Clark Dome, only 10 people are allowed at a time, and the weather has to cooperate…if it’s raining or cloudy there’s no stargazing. 

So we perused the campus, 

Giovale Opendeck Observatory

Giovale Opendeck Observatory with six state-of-the-art telescopes, stargazing, and constellation tours


Rotunda Open House… 

Where Pluto was Discovered…

13” Pluto Discovery Telescope…

Lowell’s Mausoleum…

Lowell’s Mausoleum, final resting place…built to resemble a telescope dome 

And then it was finally time to start lining up in front of Clark Dome to look through the 24” refracting telescope…the anticipation was building with each passing minute, and we were getting pretty tired, with the 3-hour time differents we were getting a bit cranky, it was midnight at home and we were feeling it. But boy am I so thankful the weather cooperated, it was cloudy and rainy the two days prior. When I finally viewed the cluster of stars through the telescope it was gorgeous…like dancing glitter of gold, silver, and white starkly contrasting against the night sky. 

What a magical night! We drove back to club Wyndum, for some much-needed sleep and are up and at em early again today so we can make our reservation on time for the Antelope Canyon! Stay tuned for Day 3!   

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