Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory, astronomical observatory located in Flagstaff, Ariz.; it was founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell, the American astronomer who popularized the idea that Mars might support intelligent life. Its original telescope, still in operation, is a 24-in. (61-cm) refractor; also located at the Mars Hill site are the 13-in. (33-cm) A. Lawrence Lowell photographic camera used by Clyde Tombaugh when he discovered Pluto, and a 16-in. reflector used in the visitors' night viewing program. Located at the newer nearby Anderson Mesa station are 72-in. (183-cm), 42-in. (107-cm), and 31-in. (79-cm) reflecting telescopes and a 24-in. (60-cm) Schmidt telescope used in the search for asteroids and other near-earth objects. Anderson Mesa is also the site of the Navy Prototype Optical Interferometer program, a joint venture of the Lowell Observatory, the U.S. Naval Observatory, and the Naval Research Laboratory. Many discoveries of fundamental importance have been made by the observatory, especially by V. M. Slipher, its director from 1916 to 1954. By 1917 he had determined through spectroscopic analysis the radial velocities of most spiral nebulae then known. His discovery that nearly all these nebulae, now known as galaxies, were apparently moving away from the earth led to Edwin Hubble's work and the discovery of the expanding universe. Beginning in 1905 the observatory made a concerted search for a transneptunian planet, which led to Tombaugh's discovery of Pluto in 1930. Principal research programs involve the discovery and determination of orbits for new asteroids, a search for nearby stars, and the measurement of light and motion of close double stars, nebulae, and other galactic objects.
Lowell Observatory is an astronomical observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell Observatory is among the oldest observatories in the United States, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

The Observatory's original 24-inch Alvan Clark Telescope is still in use today for public education. Lowell Observatory hosts 70,000 visitors per year who take guided daytime tours and view various wonders of the night sky through the Clark Telescope and other telescopes. It was founded in 1894 by astronomer Percival Lowell, and run for a time by his third cousin Guy Lowell of Boston's well-known Lowell family. The current trustee of Lowell Observatory is William Lowell Putnam, grandnephew of founder Percival Lowell and son of long-time trustee Roger Putnam.

The observatory operates several telescopes at two locations in Flagstaff. The main facility, located on Mars Hill just west of downtown Flagstaff, houses the original 24-inch (0.61-meter) Clark Refracting Telescope, although its role today is as a public education tool and not research. The telescope, built in 1896 for $20,000, was assembled in Boston by Alvan Clark and then shipped by train to Flagstaff. Also located on the Mars Hill campus is the 13-inch (0.33-meter) Pluto Discovery Telescope, used by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 to discover the dwarf planet Pluto.

Lowell Observatory currently operates four research telescopes at its Anderson Mesa dark sky site, located 12 miles southeast of Flagstaff, including the 72-inch (1.8-meter) Perkins Telescope (in partnership with Boston University) and the 42-inch (1.1-meter) John S. Hall Telescope. Lowell is a partner with the United States Naval Observatory and NRL in the Navy Prototype Optical Interferometer (NPOI) also located at that site. The Observatory also operates smaller research telescopes at its historic site on Mars Hill and in Australia and Chile. Lowell Observatory is currently building the 4.2-meter Discovery Channel Telescope in partnership with Discovery Communications, Inc.

Discovery Channel Telescope

Lowell Observatory is building a major new telescope in partnership with Discovery Communications near Happy Jack in northern Arizona. The telescope, located within the Mogollon Rim Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest, is expected to be the fifth largest in the continental United States and will allow Lowell astronomers to enter new research areas and conduct existing programs more effectively and efficiently. The DCT and the research it enables also will be the focus of ongoing informative and educational television programs about astronomy, science, and technology airing on Discovery networks In addition, the Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory is expected to have a significant educational and economic impact within the state.

Current research

Lowell Observatory's astronomers conduct research on a wide range of solar system and astrophysical topics using ground-based, airborne, and space-based telescopes. Among the many current programs are a search for near-Earth asteroids, a survey of the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, a search for extrasolar planets, a decades-long study of the brightness stability of the sun, and a variety of investigations of star formation and other processes in distant galaxies. In addition, the Observatory staff designs and builds custom instrumentation for use on Lowell's telescopes and eleswhere. For example, Lowell staff built a sophisticated high-speed camera for use on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). SOFIA is a joint project of the United States and German space agencies and consists of a 2.5-meter telescope on board a Boeing 747 SP.

Notable discoveries


  • Strauss D. (1994). "Lowell,Percival, Pickering, W.H. and the founding of the Lowell Observatory". Annals of Science 51 (1): 37–58.

External links

Search another word or see lowell observatoryon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature