Lowell Observatory was established by astronomer Percival Lowell just west of downtown Flagstaff in 1894, making it one of the nation’s oldest observatories. Its discoveries include the dwarf planet Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, the three largest known stars, and the science of determining the age of a star, plus the co-discovery of Uranus in 1977.
The observatory’s 24-inch Alvan Clark Telescope debuted in 1896 after being built in Boston at a cost of $20,000 and shipped to Flagstaff by train. Lowell chose Flagstaff as the site for the observatory, then the only significant scientific site in the Southwest, because of the altitude and clear night skies. Lowell’s early research was focused on finding canals that he believed were on Mars.
The original observatory is made of wood and is a national historic site. It is still in use today by visitors taking nighttime tours of the facility, which are available by reservation only and may be cancelled by thunderstorms during the summer months. The observatory also offers daytime tours, exhibits that include the original plates from the Pluto discovery, and multimedia shows in visitors center.
Pluto was spotted by Tombaugh using the 13-inch Pluto Discovery Telescope located nearby on Mars Hill. The Lowell Observatory also operates four research telescopes on Anderson Mesa, which is 12 miles southeast of Flagstaff, and is building the 4.2-meter Discovery Channel Telescope for a 2011 launch.
1400 W. Mars Hill Road
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
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