Located right at the city limits of Flagstaff, Arizona, Lowell Observatory has been a hub of the efforts to explore space and better understand the vast universe around us for over a century now. World-renowned for being the location where Pluto was first discovered, Lowell Observatory remains an important center for astronomical research today. Visitors will find much to do here. Guided tours are available daily, and there are regular talks and evening programs (led by the Observatory’s expert staff). There’s also a museum, archive, and gift shop. If you time your visit right, you might even be able to use a solar telescope to view the sun yourself!
Lowell Observatory History and Background Information
As one of the oldest working observatories in the entire United States, Lowell Observatory has a long and storied history. It was first established by Percival Lowell in 1894, with the intention being that it would be used as a means for better studying the planet Mars. Over the years, though, Lowell Observatory has been utilized in a number of important projects. It was here that the rings of the planet Uranus were first discovered; some of the first efforts at “moon mapping” were conducted for the Apollo space program here, too.
Lowell Observatory is perhaps best-known today as the place where the planet Pluto was first discovered by the astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. As a result of the many important astronomical discoveries made and scientific breakthroughs reached here, Lowell Observatory has received many honors and distinctions over the years. In 1965 it was named a United States National Historic Landmark, while in 2011 it was named one of “The World’s 100 Most Important Places” by Time magazine.
What’s at Lowell Observatory
Today the Lowell Observatory remains a vibrant spot, home year-round to a world-class staff of astronomers dedicated to ongoing research and far-reaching study. This makes it a great place to visit if you’re personally interested in attempting to better understand the wonders of space and they mysteries of the universe.
A number of guided tours are given daily. A 45-minute-long guided walking tour entitled “The Story of Pluto” is given at 11:00am and 2:00pm; it focuses on the Observatory’s discovery of Pluto, and the role the “Pluto Discovery Telescope” played in that achievement. “The Lowell Tour” is available each day at 12:00pm and 3:00pm; this 45-minute-long tour details many of the Observatory’s research projects—both past and ongoing—and lets you get a glimpse of the Observatory’s famous Clark Refracting Telescope, which dates to 1896 but remains in use today.
Other highlights include the Rotunda Museum, which houses the most valued artifacts found at Lowell Observatory, and the Putnam Collection Center, the Observatory’s library and archive. Typically closed to the public, this remarkable research center throws open its doors to display a select number of special items pulled from its collection every afternoon at 1:00pm.
You’ll also find a gift shop located on-site. There you’ll have your pick of gifts or souvenirs, as the official Lowell Observatory store is well-stocked with an assortment of space-themed books, toys, telescopes, shirts, hats, and more. And with the entire city found just down the road, any other Flagstaff attractions and amenities you might be interested in—including dining, shopping, and hotels—are only a few minutes away.
Tips for Visiting Lowell Observatory
- Admission for adults is $15 between Monday and Saturday, and $10 on Sunday. Admission for children between the ages of 5 and 17 is $8 from Monday through Saturday, and $4 on Sunday. A one-dollar discount is provided for seniors and college students, while children under the age of 5 years old may enter the Observatory for free.
- Evening programming at Lowell Observatory runs every day of the week except Sunday. These regular events include everything from research demonstrations to constellation tours, and are some of the most popular offerings available here. You’ll want to check the official Lowell Observatory website before you visit, so that you’ll know exactly when to arrive in order to attend the program you really want to experience.
- A number of the activities offered at the Lowell Observatory—including the “Solar Program,” which lets you look at the sun through a special telescope—are contingent upon appropriate weather conditions. As a result, if you’re really invested in participating in such programs during your visit, you’ll want to make sure to plan your visit for a sunny day.
- Lowell Observatory is also regularly home to a wide variety of special events. As you plan your visit, you’ll want to check the Lowell Observatory official website for a schedule of these programs, to see if you’ll be able to enjoy one while you’re in town.