Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What to do in Flagstaff: Lowell Observatory


Knowing people with keys pays off. 

In the basement of Lowell Observatory a bank of storage rooms hold a few hardworking engineers, tucked away in the dark. A thin window at the top of the wall let a sliver of golden sunshine in and a lamp on each desk illuminate blueprints and computers. 

Frank Cornelius glanced up from his desk and smiled when he saw Jim. After a little catch up and introduction session Jim got down to business.

"So you think you could get us in to look at the telescope?"

Regularly scheduled tours of the observatory and telescope exist, but who doesn't enjoy a private tour and the chance to poke around a little bit.

We entered the Lowell room with it's unique chandelier and its plethora of multi-colored books and artifacts and spent some time oohing and ahhing over old equipment and photographs.

Percival Lowell built this observatory in 1894 and used it to study the "canals" on Mars that convinced him that intelligent life form could be found there.

It's always interesting to look back at past discoveries, ideologies and theories. I find the ones that have since been disproved, like Lowell's theory of Martians, to be the most interesting. I can't help but wonder, how many people also believed him? How many things do we believe to be true today, in so many realms of our life, that we will one day look back on and laugh at?

Exceptionally open skies brought Lowell to Flagstaff and actually brought my family here too. Both my aunt and uncle work for the observatories here. Frank admitted that while the job at the observatory is great, the mountains brought him to Arizona. He and his wife started VooDoo and they model their climbing gym holds after the challenging rocks they find in Flagstaff. 

But the real treat to see is the Clark Telescope. 

Old Clark Telescope has been peeping at the stars for 117 years. It's through this telescope that Pluto was discovered in 1930. And while this telescope holds more of a place in history than discovery these days, it's still a pretty impressive thing to behold. 

The Clark Telescope is being refurbished currently but if you take a tour of the observatory you can still look through the McAllister during one of the night tours and spy on stars and planets.

Lowell in his chair studying Mars

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