Monday, November 27, 2017

The Lowell Observatory

November 15 (Wednesday)

We had left our visit to the Lowell Observatory until a nice clear day was forecast. This being our last full day in Flagstaff meant we were going today regardless of the forecast. So, under very heavy cloud cover we went off to see this historic observatory. Pluto was discovered in 1930 using one of the telescopes here.

First we sat through a great presentation on the history of the Lowell Observatory by a very proud employee. He then took us to see the famous Clark telescope. This device was built in 1896 and still in use today. All the tracking mechanicals were custom made by a mechanical shop in Flagstaff. The building that houses it is just as impressive. Built with Douglas fir by skilled craftsmen. The original purpose of the Lowell Observatory was to find out more information on Mars.

Note the tires. The roof rotates on these.

The workmanship of the building is almost as impressive as the telescope.

See the chair in the middle of the frame? The observer used to sit in the chair while viewing through the telescope. The telescope would rotate up to the chair. As the hours of observing moved ahead the chair and the telescope would move in time with the object (usually Mars) would move across the sky. Very impressive.

That focusing knob I have my hand on has been adjusted by all users of the telescope.....including every astronaut that went to the moon. I rubbed it for luck!

Later that evening we had a chance to view Uranus through that eyepiece. What a thrill!

Yes, the tires do sometimes go flat. The just retread them and re-use!

The telescope is housed in this building.

Sorry the pictures don't do it justice. The room was pretty dark and the telescope is huge!

We heard other presentations about the Pluto discovery. This building was very nice inside with many displays.

The second floor corner office was used by Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto.

We had a chance to visit the telescope that was used to discover Pluto, but was unfortunately unavailable to see as it was being refurbished. It is 100 years old after all! We did see the building that houses the telescope though.

The way they discovered Pluto is almost unbelievable. They would take a picture of a piece of the night sky, then take another picture of exactly the same piece of sky. Then they would compare the two pictures to see if anything 'moved'. If so, then they had discovered something. Mathematics and observation finally proved the existence of a new planet.

There were some very interesting displays in the Visitor Center. Like this meteorite.....

We came back in the evening to hear some other presentations about the solar system, stars and constellations. When we cam outside it was of course dark and unbelievably the wind had died down and the skies were perfectly clear! So we had a chance to view the Ring Nebula (Constellation) from a smaller telescope they had set up in the yard. As well, there is a larger telescope that was aimed at the Andromeda Constellation that we were able to view. But the highlight was being able to view Uranus through the world famous Clark telescope! We were told that every astronaut that ever went to the Moon looked through that very telescope! What a thrill!

......and that was Our View From Here!


  1. Glad you got to see Ur'anus!! Will talk soon.

  2. That would be fascinating looking through one of those telescopes!
    Safe travels.