A Visit to the Lowell Observatory

There it is. One of my favorite pictures. My son looking at the moon through the restored Clark Telescope. The telescope was new in 1896. It is still beautiful today due to the restoration started in 2014.

I’d lived in Arizona for twenty years and had never been to the Lowell Observatory. I knew about it, but had no idea what was actually there. I finally made it there only after I moved to Texas. We visited in 2016 when we returned to visit my stepfather over spring break. He suggested we spend some time around Flagstaff while we were in Arizona. While there, I saw the brochure for the observatory and really pressed to visit even though we couldn’t be there long or even at night.

Flagstaff, AZ from Mars Hill (Lowell Observatory)

It was a gorgeous day for viewing both the sky and the land from the hill where the telescopes are. It’s called Mars Hill due to the observatory’s original purpose: the study of Mars. The observatory was established by Percival Lowell in 1894, and the site is still actively used by astronomers.

The Clarke telescope was open for viewing during the tour. The scope was stopped down via the iris at the top end, and we were treated to pleasant low contrast views of the moon through the afternoon sky.

My stepdad steadying his grandson at the top of the viewing ladder

The main tube of the 24-inch refractor is about 32 feet long and weighs about 2 tons. The total weight of the scope, finder scopes, mount and pier is about 13 tons. The dome is made of wood sheathed in tin.

Looking up at the main tube and the closed dome shutter

The dome rotates on twenty two 1960 Ford automobile tires and wheels. You can see them in these pictures below the shutter platform.

The dome shutters are open

The equatorial mount has one ton of counterweights opposite the telescope tube. These are mostly hidden in my pictures.

The equatorial mount

Lowell used the Clark Telescope to study Mars. It was also used to map the moon and scout possible landing sites before the Apollo missions.

Outside the Clark Telescope Dome

There are other telescopes on the hill as well. The Abbott L. Lowell Astrograph was used to find a particularly famous dwarf planet using photographic surveys. Pluto!

Abbott L. Lowell Astrograph (Pluto Discovery Telescope)

Sources

Shindler, Kevin (2015). The Far End Of The Journey: Lowell Observatory’s 24-inch Clark Telescope. Lowell Observatory.

The Clark Refractor

100 Years of Good Seeing – Clark Telescope

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