Best Arizona Astronomer (2012)

Percival Lowell

When members of the International Astronomical Union downgraded Pluto to dwarf planet status in 2006, we practically heard Percival Lowell spinning in his grave all the way up in Flagstaff. That's because the mathematician and astronomer dedicated the last decade of his life to helping lay the groundwork for the discovery of Pluto, which took place in 1930 at the Northern Arizona star-gazing facility he founded that bears his name. A wealthy Boston socialite who had an affinity for the wonder of the cosmos, he ventured to our neck of the woods in 1894 due to the wealth of clear skies and a lack of light pollution. After building Lowell Observatory, he used the Alvan Clark Telescope to survey Mars, a planet the eccentric millionaire was particularly obsessed with. Although he might've been completely bonkers when he confidently (and quite erroneously) declared there were canals crisscrossing the Martian surface, Lowell was definitely on the money about was the existence of an object orbiting the sun out beyond Neptune and Uranus. Dubbing it "Planet X," Lowell relentlessly searched the skies for it right up until his death in 1916. While, sadly, he never completed this particular quest, Lowell paved the way for his fellow astronomer Clyde Tombaugh to zero in on Pluto 14 years later at the observatory. Some guys have all the luck.


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