If you are in Arizona right now, then you are in the only state in the America — in fact, the only place outside Europe — where a planet has been discovered. That’s right, an astronomer discovered Pluto at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff in 1930. Visitors can take advantage of this surprising distinction by visiting the Lowell Observatory, where both the history of astronomy and cutting-edge research in the field are on display.
Percival Lowell founded his observatory on a mesa to the west of Flagstaff in 1894. Though he occupied himself initially with drawing canals he believed he saw on the surface of Mars — supposedly signs of intelligent life on the planet — he later shifted his attention to a search for planets beyond Neptune.
After Lowell’s death in 1916, an amateur astronomer named Clyde Tombaugh continued Lowell’s search, meticulously comparing photographs of the night sky for movement that would indicate an object closer than the fixed stars in the background. In 1930, the observatory announced his discovery of Pluto.
Visitors to the observatory can take guided tours, which will take them to the original Alvan Clark telescope used by Lowell himself and the Pluto Discovery Telescope. The Clark telescope, remarkably, is still in operation today and is used for educational purposes. Other exhibits include the “blink” comparator Tombaugh used to discover Pluto and a spectrograph used to gather the first evidence that the universe was expanding. Visitors will also see interactive exhibits meant to demonstrate the basic principles of astronomy.
The Rotunda Library, originally built by Lowell to house his book collection, now displays exhibits showing the history of the observatory.
The Discovery Channel has teamed up with the observatory to build the 4.2-inch Discovery Channel Telescope. The device will be used to search for clues to the most fundamental mysteries of the universe.