On a recent overnight stay in Flagstaff, Arizona, I had an opportunity to visit the campus of Lowell Observatory ( www.lowell.edu ). One reason I was interested in visiting an observatory is because when I was going through the papers of my deceased grandparents, I came across some antique postcards, dated from the early 1900's, and mailed to my grandparents' remote, mountain settlement in Marion County, Arkansas. They were from some acquaintance of theirs that had visited Mt. Wilson Observatory ( www.mtwilson.edu ) , in Los Angeles County, California. It must have seemed like worlds away to get a missive from such a distant and unfamiliar location, as a mountain top, on the Pacific coast---almost like getting a post card today, from someone on the moon, comparatively speaking! Anyway, I surmised that if my grandparents thought a record of an observatory visit was important enough to keep for almost a century, the least I could do was to take advantage of the opportunity that I (as their descendant) had, to make a similar visit!
Lowell Observatory (established in 1894), like Mt. Wilson, is a National Historic Landmark. Both locations have the distinction of being two of the oldest astronomical observatories in the United States. Lowell Observatory is located on Mars Hill, one mile west of downtown Flagstaff, at an elevation of 7200 feet.
One of Lowell Observatory's main "claims to fame", is that it was here, that in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered the dwarf planet, Pluto, using the 13 inch telescope, now called the "Pluto Discovery Telescope". The Pluto discovery was probably a factor in the 2011 decision where TIME magazine named Lowell Observatory "One of the world's 100 most important places"! One of the reasons that the name "Pluto" was chosen for the new planet, was because the astronomical symbol for that name, would be "PL", which would also be a "silent salute" to the observatory's founder, Percival Lowell. The Discovery Channel logo on the sign signifies that Lowell Observatory has partnered with the Discovery Channel, to build a $53 million facility at a "dark sky" location 40 miles southeast of Flagstaff. The founder's goal of being "the people's observatory" is definitely being accomplished, as the Discovery Channel images will reach millions of viewers via television and the Internet.
Despite the fact that the mission statement of Lowell Observatory says that it is a private, non-profit institution, dedicated to excellence in research and outreach, I was struck by the beauty of the campus, with its towering pine trees and manicured lawns. It seemed like a perfect location for an early morning stroll in the woods!
In addition to the observatory being founded by Percival Lowell, it was managed for a time by his third cousin, Guy Lowell, of Boston's well-known Lowell family. Relatives of those early founders continue to be involved in the operation of the facility, and its multi-million dollar budget. ( It is interesting to me that a family who had the word "low" in their name, spent so much of their time, talents, and finances, on looking up "high", rather than "low"! ) The East Coast connection also continues, through the partnership that Lowell Observatory has with astronomer researchers at Boston University.
There are permanent exhibits, live presentations, telescope viewing, and rotating/visiting exhibitions that one may see on the Lowell Observatory campus. One of the newer attractions is the totally immersive "space theater". So, even if one has been to the campus in the past, there are always new visual delights to capture your attention, as the curators work to bring new scientific discovery information to the public.
This is called the "LIVE" van, which stands for Lowell Interstate Vehicle for Education. Based on the art work on the side, it looks as though it could also stand for "Intergalactic" ! This is just one more attempt at making this truly "The People's Observatory".
A repository of astronomical history can be seen at the Slipher Rotunda Museum. There you will learn, that in 1912, V.M. Slipher discovered that the universe was expanding. As you can imagine, this is a popular place to bring students on those ever-memorable "school field trips".
The "observatory-shaped" structure in this photo, is actually a mausoleum, containing the remains of Lowell's famous founder, Percival Lowell.
The "barrel shaped" Clark Telescope Dome was the location of much of the early research done at Lowell.
This photograph shows the sun illuminating the structures, and casting long shadows, early in the morning--shortly after "first light", on the day of my visit. One might surmise from the photo that it was wintertime, because the deciduous trees have not yet leafed out. However, the time was mid-April, and reflects the colder temperatures and high elevation of the location. The website says to bring a jacket, even in the summer, when attending night-time star-gazing activities.
The Steele Visitor Center welcomes 85,000 visitors per year, for guided daytime tours, and night activities. In the past twenty years, more than one million visitors have seen through the famous 24" Clark Telescope. Some of these visitors, include youngsters who participate in "Uncle Percy's Kids Camp" each summer.
The custom-made arch on these iron gates pays homage to the association of Lowell Observatory, with the discovery of Pluto---complete with a ring around the spherical planet!
This was the view I saw, as I was leaving the Mars Hill mountain top above Flagstaff, where Lowell Observatory was located. The snow-covered summit in front of me, combined with the Lowell telescopes being nicknamed "the eye on the heavens" according to their website, are a great visual aid for my FirstPlace4Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse. Colossians 3:1-2 says, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." . I am thankful there are scientists using telescopes to study "things above", as well as those who study God's word that talks about "things above". Both views will provide "Miles of Starry, Starry Smiles"! Tricia