I took a trip to Arizona specifically to see the Grand Canyon. But while doing my research on what else to see in the state I realized that I could also visit this wonderful observatory with a long history (Which includes the discovery of Pluto).
It is right inside Flagstaff Arizona which is only an hour from the Grand Canyon. The observatory is actually a compound with several telescopes and other buildings that sit on the top of a hill. They have a visitor center with gift shop, an auditorium and more. They have events and programs that happen during the day. And most importantly they have events at night where you can go and look through their various telescopes including the magnificent 24 inch Alvan Clark telescope.
On the night that I went they had four telescopes open for public use and a student astronomer at each one. The among the four telescopes was a very large schmidt. I can’t remember the size of that one but it was somewhere around two feet. They had two 16 inch dobsonians and of course they had the 24 inch Clark telescope.
It was truly wonderful to walk from building to building and from telescope to telescope to get views of various celestial objects including M31, M15, the double open cluster in Cassiopeia and the Dumbbell Nebula ( M27).
If you are curious about telescopes and astronomy you should pay them a visit. And if you are an amateur astronomer you absolutely have to go. You will not be disappointed.
You know, when I was a kid I remember reading about Lowell, the observatory and the telescope in various old books. I still have those books. It was rather nostalgic for me to actually go and see it all in real life. Part of it is the whole story about the canals on Mars.
First things first! Here is a look at that beautiful Alvan Clark telescope. It is a refractor with a 24 inch primary objective. It was built in 1896 and it has a focal length of 384.7 inches ( 32 feet). That is one big telescope!
The campus for the observatory is a wonderful place on the top of a hill. Of course they put the telescope on the top of a hill! it’s about a half mile drive up from the city of Flagstaff.
And the campus has that wonderful college campus feel about it. You walk on paths and among trees to go from bulding to building. And the great thing about it is that several of the buildings are observatories with telescopes. They used to have a 42 inch reflector telescope that is now retired and on display on the campus grounds – without the mirror of course. Here is a picture:
The Rotunda Museum
They had a solar viewing telescope for visitors to look through. I saw some terrific solar flares.
Let me just finish by saying I took two visits to this observatory. Once during the day and once at night. Both trips were well worth it. If you are in Arizona I highly recommend you stop in. During the day they have hourly things going on and at night they have several hours of viewing and learning about the night sky including a tour of the constellations. To learn more you should check out their website: Lowell Observatory
A note from Will- If you are traveling to Arizona I have lots more information for you about my trip, including photographs of the Grand Canyon and three castles!