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The Fox News article Arizona city played critical role in moon exploration history covers several interesting activities that took place in Arizona in preparation for the Apollo Moon landings.
It shows the telescope (shown below) and mentions that it was used to draw lunar maps.
There is more information about this telescope here and here as mentioned in this answer.
Question: Why does this Lowell Observatory telescope have so many knobs? What do they all do? Is it possible to identify the function of all of the annotated controls and devices on this complicated-looking telescope?
I've added some numbers to facilitate discussion. There is also a chain going between the locations of #4 and #5, though I don't know exactly what it couples.
click images for full size viewing
above: Lowell Observatory telescope used by scientists who collaborated with artists to map out the moon for Apollo astronauts (Fox News) Source
below: Screenshot from July 9, 2019 Fox News video NASA lunar legacy in the Arizona desert
Here is part of a drawing from the Lowell Observatory booklet "100 Years of Good Seeing: The History of the 24-Inch Clark Telescope" (22 MB (i.e. large file warning) PDF):
Dial 6 is the right ascension clock. Without closely watching observatory staff operate the telescope, the rest is speculation:
Being near dial 6 and linked by chains, knobs 4, 5, and 7 are probably for adjustments in right ascension. Knob 5 could be a clutch to disengage for slewing and engage for sidereal tracking.
One of knobs 1-3 is for an iris near the objective, to limit chromatic aberration by reducing the aperture. The other two knobs are probably for adjustments in declination; again one may be a clutch.
I contacted Dr. Danielle Adams, Deputy Director for Marketing and Communications at the Lowell Observatory. She was kind enough to reply, and generously provided the following (lightly edited for formatting):
I spoke with one of our senior educators about the Clark knobs. The numbers below correspond to the numbers in the image posted in Why does this Lowell Observatory telescope have so many knobs? What do they all do?
- Slow motion control for adjusting Right Ascension (east-west movements) while the Right Ascension clutch (3) is locked down.
- Iris control that allows us to control the effective aperture of the telescope. There is an adjustable aperture that can be adjusted from 24" (wide open) to 6".
- Right Ascension clutch that when tightened prevents the telescope from being moved by pushing, allowing the telescope drive to operate.
- and 7. Slow motion controls for adjusting declination (north-south movements) while the Declination clutch (5) is locked down. The two controls are linked with bicycle chain so when one moves, so does the other. This allows operation of the control from either side of the viewing position.
- Declination clutch that when tightened prevents the telescope from being moved by pushing, allowing the telescope drive to operate.
- Sidereal clock that permits astronomers to point their telescopes to a given celestial object more easily.The sidereal day is about 4 minutes shorter than the 24 hour solar day. This is due to the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun while it rotates about its axis.
- see (4)
In collaboration with many other Flagstaff cultural organizations, Lowell Observatory has pledged to use science to guide our reopening and to welcome our guests back to Mars Hill only when we have the resources and evidence-based procedures in place to do so (https://flagartscouncil.org/covid/). Listed below are the procedures that we are employing to keep our staff, guests and community safe.
Increased cleaning and sanitizing, especially of high-touch areas
- We clean and sanitize the Steele Visitor Center throughout the day.
- We sanitize high-touch points, including door knobs, handrails, and stanchion tops, after every group.
- We sanitize the clear covers on each eyepiece after every cohabiting or cotraveling group has finished looking through the telescope.
You can help us keep things clean by washing your hands often, using hand sanitizer at the various stations around campus, and keeping your hands away from your face and other surfaces, especially telescopes.
Temperature and health screening for staff and guests
- We require both our staff and our guests to stay home when not feeling well.
- We require employees to self-quarantine for 14 days if they have been exposed, or have likely been exposed, to someone with COVID-19, and we conduct contact tracing to determine the extent of the exposure.
- We conduct temperature screenings of all public-facing staff prior to beginning their shifts, and of all guests.
- We consult regularly with leading medical professionals who are actively researching the coronavirus, in order to maintain up-to-date best practices.
You can help us keep Mars Hill safe by staying home if you feel sick.
Social distancing (physical distancing) of at least 6ft (2m)
- We limit the number of staff who may occupy shared buildings at one time.
- We stagger the on-site hours of staff who share office space.
- We use transparent physical barriers at all registers in the Steele Visitor Center, including the Starry Skies Shop.
- We limit the number of guests who may join an experience to five to ten (depending on the tour or experience booked) cohabitating or cotraveling people.
- We require guests to sign up for tours and experiences in advance and to pay via credit card online, to keep payment contactless.
- We design our tours and experiences to spend most of their time outdoors or in non-enclosed spaces.
- We schedule our tours and experiences so that no two occupy the same space at the same time.
- We require our guests to maintain a physical separation of at least 6 feet (2 meters) from people they don’t live or travel with, whenever possible.
You can help us by keeping at least 6 feet (2 meters) of space between you and anyone you don’t live with.
Face masks are required
- Everyone entering Lowell Observatory over the age of two is required to wear a face mask that completely covers their nose and mouth, and fits snugly on the face.
- We define a face mask as a cloth covering that fits snugly and covers both the nose and the mouth at the same time. Lowell Observatory reserves the right to approve face masks.
- We require our public-facing staff to wear face masks throughout the entirety of their shifts, except when they are on break, provided that they are not in the company of others indoors.
- Masks must be worn for the duration of a program while indoors. Guests who cannot wear a face mask are asked to visit Lowell Observatory a later time, when face masks are no longer required.
- We provide free face masks to any guests who do not already have one, or do not have an approved face mask.
- We ask anyone who refuses to wear a face mask to leave the Lowell Observatory campus, in accordance with the Emergency Proclamation of the City of Flagstaff.
You can help us by wearing an approved face mask at all times while at Lowell Observatory.
- Frequent hand-washing is one of the easiest ways to keep yourself and others safe. Restrooms for guests are available.
Help restore the Clark Telescope at Lowell Obs.
Please help in restoring the Clark telescope at the Lowell Observatory.
A campaign has been started to raise funds for the complete restoration of this wonderful icon. You can find the donation site either here or by going to the Lowell Website and clicking on the Clarke telescope animation.
#2 amicus sidera
If Lowell would consider re-naming the instrument the Robert Burnham, Jr. Memorial Telescope, I'd consider making a donation.
Additionally, even a cursory mention of the late Mr. Burnham's contributions to astronomy on the Lowell website would certainly assist me in making any such decision.
If Lowell would consider re-naming the instrument the Robert Burnham, Jr. Memorial Telescope, I'd consider making a donation.
Additionally, even a cursory mention of the late Mr. Burnham's contributions to astronomy on the Lowell website would certainly assist me in making any such decision.
The Lowell Observatory has a visitor center and store, and charges for tours, and has been a big beneficiary of Discovery Channel largess. Surely they can finance this themselves, rather than throwing it out to public donations.
Public donations is an appropriate vehicle for organizations who are really really cash strapped.
#7 Joe Bergeron
Science funding in America these days is rather chancy and something of a public production is required to ensure your application gets attention. Grant applications are much like two blindly drunk rednecks fighting each other by swinging pool cues mightily about in hopes of hitting something, while the crowd looks on in anticipation of something eventually connecting quite by accident. No,wait, that was last night. never mind.
I hope they are able to preserve their scope, lest it end up here in Columbia at the SC state museum like so many other Clarks have. Science is an expensive business, and I'm sure they would rather spend their budget on research rather than a display piece to lure in paying museum patrons. I've had to write some rather snippy letters just to help keep Arecibo in business, if they dont want to fund that, what hope does the smaller stuff here and there have?
Congress is as mean as a stripety snake these days when it comes to loosening the purse strings.
#9 mikey cee
What's wrong with it? I was there just a month ago, as part of a special tour, and they said nothing about the scope needing restoration. I know they had a problem with the RA drive not keeping up, but it didn't sound like a major problem. The view of Jupiter through the Clark Refractor was spectacular, and even superior to the view through the 4.3m Discovery Channel Scope. At Lowell we were shown Robert Burnham Jr.'s old office, so they haven't completely forgotten him. Lowell Observatory public story is devoted almost exclusively to the discovery of Pluto. They never mention its demotion to "dwarf planet," and they never talk about Percival Lowell's Martian "canals,"
I can't imagine driving all the way from Upstate NY and begrudging them ten bucks for a tour.
Calypte--if you read the web site you'd know that they decided to kick off the fundraising on March 13. And you'd know why. They weren't keeping anything from you, nor did they just decide that the scope needed work.
And to John Bergeron, I'm sorry that you can afford "Eight telescopes of a highly diverse nature" but can't afford to park your car. You have my genuine sympathy.
#12 mikey cee
#13 Joe Bergeron
I can't imagine driving all the way from Upstate NY and begrudging them ten bucks for a tour.
#14 Joe Bergeron
And to John Bergeron, I'm sorry that you can afford "Eight telescopes of a highly diverse nature" but can't afford to park your car. You have my genuine sympathy. [/quote]
Actually, I can't afford the telescopes. I could, barely, when I bought them many years ago, but in these latter days of penury I would perhaps be wiser to sell them so I can limp along for a while longer. So far I haven't been able to bring myself to do that, because at least a few of them are essentially irreplaceable.
Thanks for your sympathy. Please note my correct name though.
#15 Terra Nova
#16 Joe Cepleur
This is an excellent example of why the good manners generally shown are always needed in the forums. I hate reading when the forums degenerate into a food fight. No one here should have to clear his good name for doing nothing wrong.
We really don't know each other's circumstances. The astronomer whom I know personally who has the most telescopes made most of them, or refurbished them from their former sparse remains. I have five telescopes. Two were given to me one was sold to me at about 20% of its value by a seller who was happy for me to have it, knowing I would use it enthusiastically, and not resell it one I bought because it was one of those classics that performs beyond its price and one I bought cheaply enough and am having refurbished.
Eighty telescopes? Sounds like a passionate collector. Must be a reason for each. Expect a lot for us to learn here.
#17 Joe Bergeron
#18 Joe Bergeron
Eighty telescopes? Sounds like a passionate collector. Must be a reason for each. Expect a lot for us to learn here.
Good grief I can't say I understand any of this or why. All I wanted to to is to make people aware of a public outreach that Lowell is doing to restore a facility that is important from an astronomical and historical perspective.
If you feel so inclined that you would like to donate that is great. If not that is fine too.
A few simple points of clarification. The Lowell Observatory is a private non profit institution. They have nothing to do with the government except a significant part of their operating revenue, like almost every other professional observatory, comes from government grants. The observatory was established via an endowment from Percival Lowell. The Discovery Channel Telescope was funded approx 1/3 by the Discovery Channel with the rest being funded by the observatory and private donations. The DCT was necessary to keep Lowell as a competitive research facility. That being said we are all in VERY tight financial times. They are not rolling in cash. They have to work extremely hard for every dime they can get. Right in our state (I live in AZ) we are looking at the potential closure of the Wynn and 4 Meter Mayall telescope on Kitt Peak. These are very difficult times to be sure. The Clark has been running since the day it was built. Some parts of the telescope literally haven't been changed or cleaned since those beginning days.
Again, if you find this is a cause you would like to support that is great. If not I would encourage you to find ways to support science and education in your own local community.
PS - As a point of clarification. I am not an employee of Lowell. I am a freelance 3D animator and I have done contract work for Lowell. Some paid and a significant amount Pro-Bono. I only made this post as I thought it would be of interest to people on this board and my thinking was in particular to those interested in classical instruments. If I have somehow offended some of you I apologize as that was not my intent.
Lowell Observatory Looks for Habitable Exoplanets with GIGABYTE Servers
Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, seeks to answer one of humankind’s oldest existential questions: are we alone in the universe?
To discover the truth, they search for potentially habitable extrasolar planets, also known as exoplanets—planets outside of our Solar System that may support life.
First, a bit of background. Established in 1894, Lowell Observatory is among the oldest observatories in the United States, and a National Historic Landmark. Over the years, it has participated in numerous scientific breakthroughs, the most noteworthy of which was the discovery of Pluto in 1930. TIME Magazine has called it one of “The World's 100 Most Important Places”.
Recently, Lowell Observatory and Yale University have teamed up to spearhead the “100 Earths Project”. It is a mission to look for exoplanets with characteristics similar to Earth, known as “Earth analogs” or “Twin Earths”. Two criteria must be met: first, the exoplanet needs to be located in the “circumstellar habitable zone” (CHZ), which means it is at a suitable distance from its parent star for the planetary surface to support liquid water, a prerequisite for life. Second, the parent star needs to be similar to our Sun in age, size, and temperature—a so-called a “solar analog”. It is hypothesized that intelligent extraterrestrial life may be possible on such an exoplanet.
The search is far from easy. The glow of an exoplanet is so faint compared to its star, it is akin to looking for a firefly buzzing around a lighthouse—from light-years away. One method of discovery is transit photometry, which looks for the miniscule dimming of the star as it is eclipsed by an orbiting exoplanet. These are called “transit events”, and they reveal the planet’s volume. Another method is radial velocity, also known as Doppler spectroscopy. A satellite, even a relatively small one like Earth, causes the position and velocity of its parent star to shift (or “wobble”) ever so slightly as the two celestial bodies orbit their common center of mass. By measuring the Doppler shifts in a star’s spectrum, astronomers can detect the presence of exoplanets and calculate their mass. Since mass divided by volume equals density, scientists can deduce if an exoplanet is an inhospitable ball of gas, or a piece of rock floating through space, much like our precious blue planet.
The biggest hurdle lies in the fact a planet’s influence on a star is vanishingly small. Our own Earth causes the Sun to “wobble” with a radial velocity of just 10 centimeters per second over the course of a year. An extremely powerful optical spectrometer is needed to detect such an insignificant change. To this end, the Yale Exoplanet Lab has built a state-of-the-art high-resolution “EXtreme PREcision Spectrometer” (EXPRES), to be used in conjunction with the 4.3-meter Lowell Discovery Telescope (LDT).
Dr. Joe Llama, an astronomer and astrophysicist at Lowell, has anticipated another issue. When it comes down to it, a star is a sphere of hydrogen undergoing thermonuclear fusion. There are bound to be irregularities and fluctuations. These are known as “stellar noise”, and they could mask the already tiny signal of exoplanets. He devised a plan to study this superfluous noise, so he can prevent it from interfering with the EXPRES’s findings.
Not far from the LDT, Dr. Llama set up its smaller sibling: the 70-millimeter Lowell Observatory Solar Telescope (LOST). He hooked it up with the EXPRES and GIGABYTE’s G482-Z50, a 4U 10-Node G-Series GPU Server, and got to work. In the search for life outside of our Solar System, Dr. Llama began by staring at the Sun.
《More information about GIGABYTE's GPU Server》
While the LDT combs the night sky in search of exoplanets, the Solar Telescope studies the Sun in the daytime. “Everyone is lining up to use the EXPRES at night, but only I have exclusive access to the sun, all day,” Dr. Llama quips.
His plan is to create a spectrum of our yellow star as it passes through its eleven-year solar cycle. Dr. Llama believes there is a rhyme and reason to the stellar noise, and it will reveal the “common signature” of the stars in the sky. Omitting that universal noise will not only help astronomers pinpoint the location of a true “Twin Earth”, but also smaller objects, like the moons of exoplanets.
In layman’s terms, the process works like this: sunlight captured by the Solar Telescope is sent to the EXPRES via an 80M optic fiber cable. The EXPRES splits the light into its constituent color components, which are precisely captured by a powerful 10K x 10K charge-coupled device (CCD). Then, a reduction code is used to break the image down to a spectrum—a one-dimensional 10K image that reflects wavelength intensity. The spectrum is analyzed with a special computer program written by the “100 Earths Project” team and converted into Doppler data. Scientists hope these data points will shed light on the common signature of stars.
So long as the day is clear and sunny—which it is about three hundred days a year in Flagstaff—the EXPRES can churn out fresh findings every few minutes. The workload is nothing short of breathtaking: about 50GB of raw data is being “downloaded” from the Sun on a daily basis. At the same time, there are 10TB of accumulated data waiting to be analyzed. Both of these tasks must be carried out simultaneously.
Before getting in touch with GIGABYTE, the team at Lowell tried working with a network-attached storage (NAS) server equipped with hard disk drives (HDDs), and desktop computers to analyze the data. While serviceable, this setup was less than ideal, because a storage server is not designed for data-intensive computing. By Dr. Llama’s estimate, there would need to be thirty-six hours in a day for the NAS server to keep up with the constant influx of new readings.《Glossary: What is NAS?》
What Dr. Llama really wanted was a server with top-of-the-line processing power, excellent parallel computing capabilities, faster read and write speeds, convenient scalability, and excellent stability. The very success of the “100 Earths Project” may depend on it. After all, there are other exoplanet hunters out there. Everyone wants to be the first to discover a true “exo-Earth”.
It is fortunate, then, that the performance of the G482-Z50 is out of this world, pun very much intended. Exemplary of a new class of servers designed for data-intensive scientific research, the G482-Z50 is decked out with all the tools it needs to get the job done, including powerful processors, a scalable design, and smart safety functions to ensure system stability. It is an impressive creation to behold, even for a man who has a front row seat to the wonders of the universe.
Dr. Llama and his team set up the new server in Lowell Observatory’s data center. Now, every time the EXPRES sends back blown-up images of the Sun, the G482-Z50 does two things simultaneously: one, it runs a reduction code to extract useful spectra from the data two, it uses a separate program to decode the spectra and record the changes in our Sun’s radial velocity, which may be the building blocks of the stars’ common signature.《Glossary: What is Data Center?》
With the G482-Z50 doing most of the heavy lifting, the same computing tasks are being carried out in a quarter, or even a tenth of the time. The search for exoplanets has received a shot in the arm. The research team could not be happier.
“The processing power provided by the G482-Z50 is not only great for the Solar Telescope, but for all the scientists at the Observatory,” says Dr. Llama. “Needless to say, we are very excited.”
Why is the new server just what the doctor ordered? Dr. Llama says there are three reasons why the G482-Z50 is proving itself instrumental in helping Lowell Observatory unlock the secrets of the galaxy:
1. Top-notch processing power suitable for parallel computing
2. Industry-leading scalability
3. Designed to ensure system stability
When it comes down to it, Dr. Llama’s work requires an intense amount of data processing and parallel computing. A hundred new data points are being gleaned from the sun on a daily basis. This is in addition to the tens of thousands of data points already stored on the old NAS server. The G482-Z50 runs a reduction code to turn new images of the Sun into spectra. At the same time, it is executing a second program to convert the spectra into useful Doppler data. This is an astronomical task, in every sense of the word.
The G482-Z50 is able to shine due in part to its dual AMD EPYC™ 7002 processors, which can house up to 64 cores and 128 threads in a single CPU. What’s more, the G-Series GPU Servers can support an extremely dense configuration of GPU accelerators. The G482-Z50’s 4U chassis can fit up to ten GPGPU cards. The CPUs are connected to the GPUs via PCIe switches to minimize latency. The G482-Z50 also supports the latest PCIe Gen 4.0, which has a maximum bandwidth of 64GB/s and is twice as fast as PCIe Gen 3.0. These attributes make the G482-Z50 ideal for parallel processing, high performance computing (HPC), data analytics, cloud computing, and many other applications.
In the case of Lowell Observatory, the G482-Z50 was outfitted with a pair of AMD EPYC™ 7502 processors, which contain 32 cores and 64 threads in each CPU. The maximum single-core frequency is 3.35 GHz. This arrangement is well suited to the program used to analyze the spectra, as it is a parallelized, scalable piece of code benefiting from recent advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Pair that up with a server specializing in performing multiple calculations simultaneously, and it should be no surprise the boost to research progress has been tremendous.
One thing that might keep the research team up at night (besides searching for exoplanets) is the question of scalability. As the EXPRES churns out more and more readings, it is imperative to consider whether there is enough storage space for all the accrued information, not to mention whether the G482-Z50’s processing power can keep up with the ever-increasing challenge.
Dr. Llama’s solution to the storage problem is to move the drives from the original NAS server to the G482-Z50, which has ample capacity. The NAS can still be used to store data if the drives fill up. This effectively splits the computing and storage tasks between the two servers. The G482-Z50 can focus on processing the raw data while the valuable findings are transferred to the NAS server for storage. The G482-Z50 is able to work more quickly thanks to its fast read and write speeds. This setup also gives the research team the option of adding more storage servers, if necessary.
As for processing power, the aforementioned ultra-dense configuration of up to ten PCIe GPGPU cards means more accelerators can be added at a moment's notice. This ensures the G482-Z50 can maintain top-notch performance even as data starts to pile up. Since the spectrum analysis program is scalable and can make use of as many cores as are available, Dr. Llama has taken the precaution of installing sixteen sticks of 64GB RAM inside the G482-Z50, for a total of 1TB RAM.
In the race to discover an “exo-Earth”, not a minute of computation time can be wasted. The research team has the G482-Z50 crunching numbers twenty-four seven. It goes without saying that system stability is very important. A malfunction will not only cause a delay in the research, it may lead to the loss of precious data.
Since system failure often stems from suboptimal heat dissipation, the G482-Z50 comes equipped with dynamic fan speed control as standard, as is the case with the majority of GIGABYTE’s air-cooled servers. The baseboard management controller (BMC) monitors the temperatures of key components. It automatically adjusts the fan speed to keep everything nice and chill while delivering superb power usage efficiency (PUE).
In addition, GIGABYTE’s proprietary SCMP (Smart Crises Management/ Protection) feature forces the CPU to enter ultra-low frequency mode (ULFM) if the BMC should detect a dangerous fault or error, such as overheating or a power surge. This smart safety function prevents the system from shutting down. Once the issue has been resolved, the system will automatically return to normal power mode.
It should also be noted that components used in GIGABYTE servers are carefully selected to guarantee a stable operating environment and deliver maximum performance. The G482-Z50, like other GIGABYTE servers based on AMD EPYC™ 7002 processors, is designed for easy maintenance, with multiple tool-less features for convenient installation and maintenance. That way, even if Lowell Observatory needs to pause the search to perform routine maintenance, the G482-Z50 will be back up and running in a jiffy.
“In astronomy, we often joke we are always many years behind the latest computer technology,” says Dr. Llama. “But with the G482-Z50, not only do we have access to the computing power of AMD EPYC™ processors, we can also add GPU accelerators to calculate data even faster. We are grateful to be working with GIGABYTE.”
The search for habitable exoplanets and intelligent extraterrestrial life may sound like science fiction to some, but it is a worthy pursuit of knowledge. GIGABYTE is glad to support the effort with the latest breakthroughs in computational technology and server solutions. The GIGABYTE motto is “Upgrade Your Life” it is a commitment to using tomorrow’s technology to solve the problems we face today, such as discovering the answer to the age-old question of whether we are alone in the universe.
Clyde Tombaugh: Astronomer Who Discovered Pluto
When Clyde Tombaugh built his first telescope at the age of 20, he could not have known it was setting him forward on a path that would eventually lead to the discovery of the first known dwarf planet, Pluto. Let's take a look at the life of this amazing man.
Early life and family
Clyde William Tombaugh was born on near Streator, Ill., on Feb. 4, 1906. His family purchased a farm near Burdett, Kan., while he was still young, where a hailstorm ruined his family's crops and put an end to his hopes to attend college at the time.
In 1928, the amateur astronomer was offered a job at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, where he discovered Pluto. In 1934, he married Patricia Edson. They had two children, Annette and Alden. He earned his bachelor's and master's degree in astronomy from the University of Kansas, working at the observatory during the summers.
Tombaugh remained at Lowell Observatory until the advent of World War II, when he was called into service teaching navigation to the U.S. Navy at Arizona State College. After the war concluded, he worked at the ballistics research laboratory at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. From 1955 until he retired in 1973, he taught at New Mexico State University.
Tombaugh passed away at his home in Las Cruces, N.M., on Jan. 17, 1997.
An avid amateur astronomer
Unimpressed with store-bought telescopes, Tombaugh constructed his first telescope at the age of 20, grinding the mirrors himself. Over the course of his life, he would build more than 30 telescopes.
In 1928, he put together a 23-centimeter reflector out of the crankshaft of a 1910 Buick and parts from a cream separator. Using this telescope, young Clyde made detailed observations of Jupiter and Mars, which he sent to Lowell Observatory in hopes of garnering feedback from professional astronomers.
Instead of receiving constructive criticism, Tombaugh was instead offered a position at the observatory. The staff had been searching for an amateur astronomer to operate their new photographic telescope in search of, among other things, the mysterious Planet X.
Not long after its discovery in 1781, the new planet Uranus was found to have strange movements that could only be attributed to another body. Neptune's discovery in 1846 somewhat accounted for the orbit, but there were still discrepancies that led scientists to conclude yet another planet existed.
In 1894, businessman Percival Lowell built Lowell Observatory to study Mars. In 1905, he turned the telescope toward the search for the elusive Planet X, though he died before the new planet could be found.
When Tombaugh was hired in 1929, he joined the search for the missing planet. The telescope at the observatory was equipped with a camera that would take two photographs of the sky on different days. A device known as a blink compactor rapidly flipped back and forth between the two photographs. Stars and galaxies essentially remained unmoving in the images, but anything closer could be visually identified by its motion across the sky. Tombaugh spent approximately a week studying each pair of photographs, which contained over 150,000 stars, and sometimes nearly a million.
On Feb. 18, 1930, Tombaugh noticed movement across the field of a pair of images taken a month beforehand. After studying the object to confirm it, the staff of Lowell Observatory officially announced the discovery of a ninth planet on March 13.
With the discovery came the rights to name the new body, so the staff opened up a worldwide call for suggestions. Eleven-year old Venetia Burney of England suggested the name Pluto, because the dark, distant planet resembled the abode of the Greek god of the underworld.
Pluto endured as a planet for more than 70 years. As astronomical instruments became increasingly precise, however, other similar-sized objects were found beyond the orbit of Neptune. In 2006, almost a decade after Tombaugh's death, the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet.
The New Horizons mission carries some of Tombaugh's ashes on board as it travels to Pluto and beyond.
Although most famous for the discovery of the most controversial body in the solar system, Tombaugh also found a comet, hundreds of asteroids, and several galactic star clusters over the course of his career.
Dark matter amid the dark skies: In four years at NAU, research takes grad to the ends of the universe
As a first-year student at NAU, Megan Gialluca walked into astronomy professor Ty Robinson’s office, introduced herself and told him she was interested in doing research with him.
Four years later, she’s leaving NAU as a Goldwater Scholar and with three years of funding for a Ph.D. in hand as a recipient of the NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award.
Gialluca graduated in April with a degree in astronomy and has spent her NAU career focused on research and science education, including winning grants to run her own research projects, collaborating with a Harvard researcher to study dark matter and working at Lowell Observatory—an opportunity that helped get the New Hampshire student to NAU four years ago.
“It’s been a long road,” said Gialluca, whose next stop is the University of Washington for a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrobiology. “It’s very much a sum of a lot of hard work and advising, which is why you should just ask. You will be surprised how many people will say yes to you.”
Gialluca’s doing the kind of research that affects everyday life—but most people don’t know how or why it affects them. Her research with Robinson has been focused on looking for habitability indicators or biosignatures—evidence that other planets could host life or had hosted life at some point in the past. It’s a question that has fascinated many for decades.
She’s also interested in near-Earth objects and where these objects originate, she wants to get people as excited about the night sky as she is, and then there’s still the matter of dark matter, which makes up most of the universe.
“I would like to know more about what makes up most of the universe,” Gialluca said. “Dark matter is intimately tied to how the universe will eventually end. I think it would be nice to have an idea of where all this is headed.”
Transit spectroscopy research
Transit spectroscopy is the science of gathering data from the passage of a celestial object as it passes in front of a star. As an object moves in front of a star, light from that star passes through the planet’s atmosphere which can be used to determine what gases are present there. Knowing what gases exist on a planet is a critical component to tracing biosignatures, or the possibility of some form of life on that planet.
But her research isn’t just looking at what’s there. It’s looking at what a researcher would expect to see when looking through the lens of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)— planned to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s flagship astrophysics mission sometime this year. Gialluca collected enough data to write a Python program to create a model. She tells the program what’s in the atmosphere, and then it tells her how the data she provided, which is ideal and very detailed, would look through the lens of the JWST—it degrades “perfect” data to what JWST would see, including uncertainties such as light from the sun, broken pixels on the telescope and other potential points of distraction. It will help researchers figure out where to point the JWST to make better use of their telescope time.
This data is critical because right now, all astronomers throughout the world will use the JWST to track any number of objects, including exoplanets, so time on the telescope is “super, super, super valuable and really hard to get,” and researchers want to be able to say exactly where they’re looking and what they expect to find. Current models show what the exoplanet atmospheres should look like Gialluca’s model helps researchers predict what they will see with all the noise.
Given the vastness of space and the sheer number of variables researchers have to consider, adding a little predictability can go a long way.
“In this scenario, I have a model that already tells me what’s in the atmosphere, and the code returns to me what the JWST would see and what the atmosphere would look like to astronomers,” she said. “My code degrades the data to what the JWST would realistically observe. My work is going to be super useful for people who want to observe transits of planets with JWST and will help researchers argue that it’s worthwhile for them to get JWST time to observe a system because they’ll be able to see it in these conditions.”
The years of work on this project paid off in Gialluca’s final months at NAU in March, it was accepted for publication in Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
The enigma of dark matter
The summer before her senior year, Gialluca did an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program “at” the Harvard Center for Astrophysics, though the pandemic kept her in Flagstaff. She worked with Ana Bonaca, a postdoctoral scholar at Harvard, to study dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up most of the universe but about which scientists have vanishingly little knowledge, and stellar streams, which are long, thin streams of stars that are created when satellites of the Milky Way like globular clusters are tidally disrupted (pulled apart by the galaxy’s gravity).
Bonaca was originally looking at structures called stellar streams, which are created when a globular cluster (a big cluster of stars or a dwarf galaxy) is disrupted by title forces. This means that gravity acts more on parts of the stream that are closer to the sun, which pulls harder on some parts of the cluster than others and shifts the cluster into a long, thin stream. These streams also are quite sensitive to galactic forces, including mass, gravitational potential and dark matter.
With that last variable, the mystery deepens.
“There are big questions with dark matter—does it exist in clumps in the galaxy?” Gialluca said. “How much is the mass of a dark matter particle? And can we use stellar stream observations to inform us on what a mass of single dark matter particles would be?”
Combining what they know about dark matter—very little—with what they know about stellar streams, Bonaca and Gialluca looked at the velocity of stars in the stellar stream and how much they deviated from their orbit. This velocity dispersion (the movement along the Y axis as the star moved on the X axis) is affected by the mass of the Milky Way and other factors that come into contact with the stream—factors like dark matter particles, which are hypothesized by some to exist in clumps scientists refer to as dark matter sub-halos. If these particles exacerbate the star’s velocity, that could help them estimate the mass of a dark matter particle.
Using Python modeling, they came up with an estimate for that mass. That estimate was three magnitudes below the lower limit of what that mass could be, so obviously, Gialluca said, their estimation was incorrect.
“But in science, even when you fail, that’s usually an opportunity to learn something new,” she said. “Instead of estimating mass, our overarching goal was to present a well-constrained velocity dispersion measure of this stream (the GD-1 stream) and provide evidence that the stream has been perturbed by an outside object.”
Their research showed that something had affected those streams, which meant particles were interacting with the stars.
“If you account for all of the possible heating sources in the stream and the velocity disruption is still too small, it either means the dark matter model isn’t working or there are other things that have caused the velocity to get larger that we haven’t considered,” she said. “There’s something else going on in the stream and we don’t know what it is.”
Science outreach at Lowell Observatory
Gialluca also has astronomy work that is a little closer to home—literally. Like many NAU astronomy students, she worked at Lowell Observatory while she was here. She started as a public program educator, offering tours and running telescope programs in the evening. Halfway through her junior year, she was promoted to research assistant, helping astronomer Nick Moskovitz on a five-year NSF-funded project, LOCAMS, with the goal of capturing every meteor that shoots through the Arizona sky.
“The end goal of this is to have complete coverage of Arizona and parts of New Mexico,” she said. “Anytime anyone is outside camping and they look up and see a super cool meteor go across the sky, we’ve observed it. At least one camera has seen that and recorded it for us.”
It’s big data at work, she said. With low-cost security camera systems installed at sites throughout the state, including Sedona, Prescott, Window Rock, Happy Jack, Flagstaff and others, they should be able to capture everything out there, which can range from a couple hundred to 500 or 600 meteors a night during a meteor shower. Besides simply capturing them in the sky, the camera systems should allow the researchers to determine if meteors dropped any rocks or where they are likely to be, so they can retrieve the rocks quickly.
“If we can go get them within a couple of days, we know it’s fresh, it just came from space and it hasn’t been subjected to Earth’s process that might make it less useful,” she said. “Our dream would be a giant meteor coming in that we observed, we see that it dropped rocks, we’re able to retrieve the rocks and we’re able to look at the orbit and identify the parent body of the meteor.”
In addition to setting the cameras up, Gialluca is helping to create and populate the database where all of this information is living. They want that database to constantly update so someone who sees a meteor one night can check it the next day and learn more about it. That remains an ongoing process, she said.
Her work at Lowell played a significant role in her GRFP application the NSF looks for educational outreach efforts among applicants, as bringing science to non-scientists in an interesting, informative way is an important part of the organization’s mission. It’s important to Gialluca too, as the science she’s participating in affects society in so many ways that people often don’t consider. Knowing the history of habitability on Mars or Venus, for example, could be an indicator of Earth’s future or its past. The happenings in the galaxy aren’t quite as far, far away as people believe and have greater effects on Earth than most of us understand. And dark matter, though it’s an enigma, is, quite literally, everywhere.
Applying for the GRFP
Undergraduate students are allowed to apply twice: once as a senior moving into graduate school and once as a graduate student. Gialluca went into the process expecting it to be a good practice run for next time.
Instead, she woke up one day in March to find her phone buzzing with emails, including one from Robinson telling her she had some mail from the NSF. She hadn’t even decided where she was getting her Ph.D. when she found out she received the funding.
The GRFP is a research grant, but research is not the only factor the NSF considers. The application asks about outreach and science education and asks scholars to talk about their own life stories. Gialluca talked about her life goals, her interests, the broader impact she wanted her work to have and her college career—and, of course, her research, leading with the day she walked into Robinson’s office, introducing herself and asking to work with him in one breath.
“Extremely few freshmen possess the self-confidence and personal vision required to solicit research opportunities shortly after arriving on campus,” Robinson wrote in his letter to the NSF recommending Gialluca. “Megan arrived with a copy of an independent research study report from high school and ready to answer questions, and she was able to clearly state plans for her research in my group.”
Gialluca’s initiative continued to impress Robinson she jumped into learning Python coding, applied for funding, first from NAU and then NASA to lead her own projects, then earned a Goldwater Scholarship as a sophomore. He saw the same drive and organization as she worked through her research projects, which played a significant role in getting publishable results.
“Megan is clearly on the path to research greatness,” he said. “Few times in our lives do we meet young people where we think, ‘this person is really headed somewhere!’ That was my initial reaction to meeting Megan, and I am now even more certain of this assessment.”
Matthew J. Sharps
The planet Mars has always fascinated humanity. In fact, it seems to interest us considerably more than most things in the night sky.
This makes sense Mars is often not only clearly visible but conspicuously red like blood. So many ancient societies associated Mars with war, always of considerable interest to the human species. Mars appeals to us both as a physical object for observation and as a lure for mythological speculation.
There is a duality here. On the one hand, there is the visible planet the red coloration reflects its geology. On the other hand, there is the Mars of interpretation, whose red color reflects its attributional warlike nature this says a lot more about human psychology than it does about the planet Mars itself.
The red planet causes us to observe and to speculate.
Speculation. That’s where the problems come in. There is physical reality, and there is interpretation and it is frequently the interpretation, rather than the reality, that seizes the attention of human beings. Our brains are remarkably predisposed to the interpretation of objective physical reality in psychological, self-referential terms. Unfortunately, these terms are frequently just plain wrong.
Examples of this are legion. In previous articles in SI, my coauthors and I have discussed ordinary objects that have metamorphosed, in the minds of their observers, into nonexistent phenomena ranging from UFOs to Bigfoot, and we have found specific patterns of mental processing that contribute directly to these misinterpretations (e.g., Sharps et al. 2016). In the more prosaic but more sinister worlds of eyewitness memory and officer-involved shootings, we have frequently found innocuous things such as power tools being transformed, psychologically, into far less innocuous firearms (e.g., Sharps 2017). It is very clear that our brains can lead us to see meaningful patterns where none actually exist and that we may extrapolate what we believe about a given perception to the perception itself. We tend to interpret what we see in terms of what we believe this brings us back to the planet Mars.
Percival Lowell in 1914, observing Venus in the daytime with the 24-inch (61 cm) Alvan Clark & Sons refracting telescope at Flagstaff, Arizona.
Mars was the special focus of Percival Lowell, an important pioneer in planetary astronomy. Using his own considerable wealth, he created the great observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell’s computations there led ultimately to Clyde Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto, and Lowell’s financial and intellectual support led to a literally stellar progression of Lowell Observatory discoveries to the present day. Many of his observations, and those of other scientists at the Observatory, have proven startlingly accurate (e.g., Schindler 2016).
Some of his other observations, however, present problems.
One of Lowell’s most important discoveries, in his opinion, was finding canals on the surface of Mars. These long, straight, clearly artificial irrigation systems were ubiquitous. For Lowell, the dry landscape of Mars quite literally supported an intelligent race of beings with something like civil engineering degrees who were transporting water all over the place in their canals.
It wasn’t just Lowell. Schiaparelli saw canals, or at least ditches (canali). Schiaparelli’s ditches were long and straight and rectilinear, completely failing to obey the laws of perspective on the Martian planetary spheroid, but he saw and reported them anyway. Flammarion believed in canals, although he was also big on vegetation on the moon as well, so we might want to be a little careful there. Douglas, Lowell’s assistant, also saw canals—until he decided they didn’t really exist, was fired by Lowell as a result, and went on to invent dendrochronology at the University of Arizona. A lot of professional astronomers saw Martian canals, drew the things, and speculated on their nature.
But there aren’t any Martian canals.
That’s the problem: there just aren’t any damn canals on Mars. Lowell, and many other expert observers, saw them.
But they’re just not there.
The Mariner spacecraft thoroughly photographed Mars way back in 1964. Mariner found craters, rocks, flat bits and pointy bits, and bits with hills, but it didn’t find a single canal. Anywhere.
Mariner did, of course, photograph many Martian surface structures of great interest to planetary astronomers. Lowell saw many of them, half a century earlier, through his excellent telescopes. The man was no fool some of his drawings of the Martian surface are practically identical, in broad outline, to photographs of the planet taken from the Hubble space telescope. But his canals, drawn with equal clarity, simply don’t exist.
Map of Martian “Canals” by Giovanni Schiaparelli
You might assume that continuing progress in telescope technology would have reduced the observation of these canals in the early years of the twentieth century, but you’d be wrong. I had the honor of examining a number of globes and maps of Mars, held today in the excellent archives at the Lowell Observatory these very clearly show an increase in the number and complexity of canals as new observations were made and new globes and maps created. Canals became more numerous and elegantly geometric as the observations poured in. Some canals even doubled in perfect parallel, an astonishing phenomenon termed gemination all of this despite the fact that there were never any real canals to begin with.
These nonexistent canals had real staying power. As mentioned earlier, the Mariner orbiter, in 1964, proved that there were no canals on Mars, but I examined a 1969 map in the Lowell archives that still showed the canals, in all their impossible rectilinear glory. The ruler-straight lines of the canals were relatively faint, as if the planetary cartographers were somewhat ashamed of these non-existent features, but these completely imaginary ditches were certainly there, in the imaginations and on the maps of scientific areographers. This was five years after Mariner had completely disproved their existence.
How do we explain this? Was Lowell, a fine observational astronomer, hallucinating? And were all the other astronomers who “saw” these bizarre ditches, straight and clear and marching over the Martian landscape, similarly afflicted with bizarre psychological disorders?
Of course not. Hallucinations derive from three sources: organic brain changes, psychosis, and extraordinary levels of stress. Lowell suffered from none of these. Granted, in the 1890s, Lowell left astronomy for four years due to a “nervous” condition, but nobody has ever suggested that he suffered from any of the conditions that produce hallucinations, and he kept seeing canals anyway. So did a lot of less nervous people his predecessor Schiaparelli observed whole networks of Martian canali, as did a number of contemporaneous astronomers, none of whom were psychotic or brain damaged.
What on Mars was going on?
Well, that would be nothing. What was happening was not on Mars at all. The canal phenomenon was very clearly happening on Earth in the minds of the astronomers affected for whatever reasons, a lot of them had canals on the brain.
The construction of the Panama Canal
Now, if anybody had a right to have canals on the brain, it was the aforementioned Giovanni Schiaparelli. Born a mere twenty-five miles from Canale, Italy, within thirty miles of several major transportation canals and living during a period in which the Suez and Panama Canals were the wonders of the world, it would be rather strange if Schiaparelli did not regard canals as the apotheosis of civilization, even though he himself only referred to the Martian canals as channels or ditches (canali). He may very well have had a mental set (e.g., Sharps 2017) about such things, a habitual way of looking at the world in canal-related or channel-based terms. This is of course speculation and can never really be anything more, but what we know for certain is that such habits of mind are intensely individualistic, based in our own idiosyncratic experience, and may form one of the first dynamics suggested to explain observation of the nonexistent canals of Mars: Individual Differences. Some people see canals. Others don’t.
But why does anybody see them in the first place? As mentioned, research in my laboratory, published primarily in SI (e.g., Sharps et al. 2016), has elucidated some of the psychological dynamics of those who think they see Bigfoot, flying saucers, aliens, and ghosts. One of the things we found in that research was that people generally don’t make something out of nothing. In other words, you don’t see Bigfoot on a featureless plain you see an ape-shaped tree stump or something similar, and your brain makes Bigfoot out of it for you. The same brain-based phenomena can also create a Loch Ness monster out of a school of Scottish salmon, a Death Star out of a helicopter with a broken landing light, and so on. These Gestalt reconfigurations result from our mental misperception and misinterpretation of real things in the real world—or on the real Mars—and these phenomena are governed by specific psychological laws. These laws are suggested to be a major psychological source of the observation of the canals of Mars.
But how does an astronomer such as Lowell or Schiaparelli maintain his beliefs in these canals, to the point at which, in the face of mounting professional opposition, he sees more and more of them? Human beings are social creatures with the ability to develop strong investments in our ideas and beliefs. This is suggested to be another major source of the Canal phenomenon: sociocognitive influences, to be joined with individual differences and Gestalt reconfiguration.
Based on an intensive review of the relevant literature, and on the observations I was privileged to make in the Lowell Archives and also through Lowell’s own 24-inch Clark telescope at the great Lowell Observatory, I submit that the erroneous observations of the canals of Mars can be better understood in terms of these three sets of dynamics.
The precise influences on Lowell’s thinking cannot now be ascertained. But it is clear that in 1901, when Lowell drew an “artificial planet,” a mock-up disk designed to evaluate the accuracy of observational drawings, Lowell drew not one but two parallel canals, a “gemination,” when in fact there had been “only a broad shading” in that portion of the model (Sheehan 1988). Part of Lowell’s family wealth derived from investments in the great canal systems of the eastern United States. These were regarded at the time as among the modern wonders of the world and were used extensively to ship a tremendous variety of goods, including the textiles that were a major business interest of the Lowell clan (see Hoyt 1976 and Sheehan 1988) this was yet another source of his individual affiliation with canals and their builders. In the presence of this influence, he turned a “broad shading” into two very specific, but nonexistent, canals. It might readily be suggested that Lowell, perhaps like Schiaparelli, was something of a victim of a canal-based mental set. This speculation may or may not have merit, but we do know that when Lowell, as an individual, was offered the opportunity to draw a shadow, he drew a hydraulic engineering system.
These individual differences would of course have interacted with the conditions of any given observation—but in what way? In my own work at the Lowell Observatory, I observed both Mars and Jupiter through the great Clark telescope preserved there. Now, I am an aging researcher with very thick glasses, but what I can say is that the observations danced before me very swiftly, the result of atmospheric fluctuation. Sometimes I would seem to see a feature on Mars, and then it was gone, or obscured, within two or three seconds. This type of highly variable, atmospherically based visual fluctuation would certainly have been there for Lowell and his colleagues as well. Obviously their training and experience would have rendered them vastly superior observers to me. But expertise aside, the fact is that brevity of observation limits our precision, in astronomy as in criminal eyewitness identification. Brevity can completely change our interpretation of our observations (e.g., Sharps 2017), whether we think we see a criminal suspect with a gun or a canal on the planet Mars. In short, if we have strong individual psychological reasons to see canals, we will see them if the observational conditions permit them at all. Lowell saw them, to the degree that when his assistant A.E. Douglas questioned these interpretations, he was essentially fired. Observations are subject to the psychology of the individual interpreting them this is a crucial principle that all scientists, in all fields, should consider.
The astronomer E.M. Antoniadi was rather caustically critical of Lowell in most respects. Although he reported the odd Martian canal himself, he demonstrated, very enthusiastically, that many of the “canals” were in fact the result of observation of a series of surface features: craters, rocks, and so on, arranged by the forces of geology into linear patterns. Lowell, and the other “canal” observers, saw discrete surface features arranged by natural forces into relatively straight lines, and joined them, perceptually, into “canals” (e.g., Sheehan 1988).
How is this possible? Gestalt psychology, the venerable theoretical perspective that deals with perceptual and cognitive configuration, provides rather good answers (e.g., King and Wertheimer 2005 Kohler 1947). Consider two of the Gestalt laws of perception, the laws of closure and of good continuation (see Sharps 1993). When we see objects that are close together, we tend to see them as connected and when they form contours, lines, or curves, we tend to see them as units. Lowell, and the other canal believers, saw craters and rocks very close together. These astronomers, with their human nervous systems, tended to see these things as contiguous. The contours thus created frequently formed lines, hence the canals. Contours of disconnected rocks were “closed,” perceptually, into solid lines under brief observation conditions, these lines appeared very solid, and they showed “good continuation” with other discrete features of the Martian surface. These factors would have created, perceptually, the “canals” (Sheehan 1988).
If an astronomer such as Lowell was individually predisposed to see canals and observed them with unavoidable fluctuating brevity, the Gestalt phenomena of closure and good continuation would practically ensure that he would see them, real or not (Sheehan 1988 Sharps 1993 2017).
In a letter to Lowell’s brother, Lowell’s assistant, A.E. Douglas, pointed out that the canals might have a psychological origin. Lowell discharged him.
Lowell regarded any psychological explanation for the canals as anathema. He may have seen the psychological idea as psychopathological, rather than as rooted in the normal principles of cognition and perception whatever the source, he fired Douglas. Lowell had invested enormously, in financial and in psychological terms, in the canals of Mars, and as has been demonstrated many times, strong investment leads to strong beliefs that are difficult to sway even in the presence of contrary evidence. The principle of cognitive dissonance (Festinger 1957 Sharps 2017) deals with this rather nicely. Even if a given idea proves to be completely wrong, we tend to hold to it, and even to defend it with relatively incoherent cognitive processing, if we’re sufficiently invested in it (Festinger 1957).
Lowell had given the canals of Mars everything he had, in terms of a very long-term emotional and financial investment. The canals of Mars, in Lowell’s mind, were the greatest discovery of his own observatory. To acknowledge error would have been virtually impossible for him, in view of this investment he never gave up on his belief in the canals, even and especially in the face of mounting pressure and criticism from his colleagues and his detractors.
The Martian surface is densely covered with features derived from the geological processes of the planet and from astronomical impacts over an enormous span of time. These surface features create a variety of irregularities that are very clear in photographs from spacecraft and from modern telescopes. However, through the telescopes of the early twentieth century, these features would have been much less readily resolved. This relative lack of resolution would have resulted in perceptual and cognitive misinterpretation with reference to the Gestalt principles cited above. This is especially true when the fluctuating brevity of optical astronomical observation is considered and when we further consider the reinforcing factors derived from individual differences and from sociocognitive factors, cementing early interpretations of those observations into a form of cognitive concrete.
It’s obviously impossible to perform experiments on the astronomers of the past. But within the realm of theoretical psychology, we can absolutely state that the observation of the canals of Mars demonstrates neither psychopathology nor incompetence on the part of pioneering scientists such as Lowell. Instead, we find an important lesson for our more modern inquiries. The scientist does not lie outside of the natural world. Rather, the scientist is entirely part of that world and is subject to scientific law in the present case, to elements of the Gestalt laws of perception and cognition and to the laws of related areas of experimental psychology. It is important for all scientists, in all disciplines, to be aware of these essential facts and to use them to exert caution in the interpretation of what might otherwise be interpreted as purely objective observations.
I wish to thank the Lowell Observatory for allowing me to conduct research for this article in their excellent facilities. Special gratitude goes to outstanding Lowell Observatory scholars Brian Skiff, Kevin Schindler (author of the excellent book Images of America: Lowell Observatory), and most especially to Archivist Lauren Amundson, for generously sharing their time and expertise with me during my research. Thanks also to CSUF student Amanda Briley for excellent research assistance. All interpretations (and mistakes) in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Lowell Observatory or of these outstanding scholars.
The Discovery Channel Telescope
By: Camille M. Carlisle December 16, 2011 0
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Venerable astronomical institutions rarely partner with large media companies to build new observatories. But such a collaboration is about to come to fruition on a 7,760-foot summit near Flagstaff, Arizona. Construction is essentially complete for the 4.3-meter Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT), a partnership between Lowell Observatory and Discovery Communications Inc. First light is expected to take place this coming May.
Edwin Aguirre & Imelda Joson
February 2012 issue of S&T. Their article describes the construction and scientific objectives of the DCT, and why a television-production company would want to build an observatory. Edwin and Imelda took most of the photos in the article during their May 2011 visit to the DCT.
As is usually the case with print magazines, S&T didn’t have enough space to run all the photos taken by Edwin and Imelda with their article. Below, you'll find more of their photos, alongside a transcript of an interview with Lowell Observatory director Jeffrey Hall.
An Interview with Jeffrey Hall
Lowell Observatory director Jeffrey Hall has been studying the Sun and solar-like stars since 1994, as part of Lowell’s Solar-Stellar Spectrograph project to learn more about the Sun and its effects on Earth’s climate. His article on the Sun’s twins was featured in S&T’s July 2010 issue. Here are excerpts from the authors’ recent interview with Hall about the Discovery Channel Telescope and its future:
How Pluto Got Its Name
The New Horizons probe is currently approaching Pluto. The mission's images and data will reveal new landmarks on the tiny, icy body along with important information about its moons. There's even a public and scientific debates over what to name those moons going on right now.
But, how did the enigmatic dwarf planet get its own name?
Clyde Tombaugh first captured snapshots of Pluto in February of 1930 at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. At the time, the planetary body was known only as “Planet X,” but it quickly became a topic of lively discussion among the public and the astronomy community.
On the morning of March 14, 1930, Falconer Madan, a former librarian at the University of Oxford’s library, was reading a newspaper article about the discovery to his 11-year-old granddaughter, Venetia Burney, over breakfast, David Hiskey explained for Mental Floss in 2012. Madan mused that he wondered what the planet might be called, and Venetia chimed in, “Why not call it Pluto?” The name of an underworld god seemed appropriate for a celestial body orbiting the cold, dark reaches of space.
Burney recalled her inspiration in 2006 interview with NASA:
I was fairly familiar with Greek and Roman legends from various children's books that I had read, and of course I did know about the solar system and the names the other planets have. And so I suppose I just thought that this was a name that hadn't been used. And there it was. The rest was entirely my grandfather's work.
Madan mentioned the suggestion in a letter to his friend Herbert Hall Turner, an Oxford astronomer. Turner happened to be attending a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, where many speculated about the naming of “Planet X.” Turner thought that Burney’s choice was fitting, so he telegraphed colleagues at Lowell Observatory with the following message:
Naming new planet, please consider PLUTO, suggested by small girl Venetia Burney for dark and gloomy planet.
Other potential names included Kronos, Minerva, Zeus, Atas and Persephone. Upon Burney’s death at the age of 90 in 2009, William Grimes wrote for the New York Times, “Unbeknownst to Venetia, a spirited battle ensued, with suggestions flying thick and fast. Minerva looked like the front runner, until it was pointed out that the name already belonged to an asteroid.” In May 1930, Burney’s suggestion won a vote among astronomers at Lowell Observatory, and from then on, the far-flung “Planet X” was known as Pluto.
Burney’s story has been well documented in the popular press, so it’s probably not too surprising that New Horizon carries an instrument named in Burney’s honor—a camera designed by students at the University of Colorado, as Chris Crockett reports for Science News for Students. As the probe flies through space, the camera measures dust particles to help scientists learn about the mysterious environment beyond Neptune.
New Horizons carries an instrument called the Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter. (NASA/LASP )
About Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson writes about science and culture for Smithsonian. She's previously written for NPR, National Geographic News, Nature and others.
The mission of Lowell Observatory is to pursue the study of astronomy, especially the study of our solar system and its evolution to conduct pure research in astronomical phenomena and to maintain quality public education and outreach programs to bring the results of astronomical research to the public. Founded in 1894, the Observatory has been the site of many important findings including the discovery of the large recessional velocities (redshift) of galaxies by Vesto Slipper in 1912-1914, and the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Today, Lowell's 20 astronomers use ground-based telescopes around the world, telescopes in space, and NASA planetary spacecraft to conduct research in diverse areas of astronomy and planetary science. The Observatory welcomes more than 75,000 visitors each year for tours, telescope viewing, and special programs.
Watch the video: Clark 125th Anniversary. Binary Star Research (May 2022).