You ever look at the sky and wonder what’s beyond our world and the land we step on? You can always become an astronaut to go and explore what’s outside of our world but not everyone has the chance to join the ranks of Buzz Aldrin and other spacefarers. If you are curious about space and all its entirety, you don’t need to enroll in NASA’s space program. While you may not walk on the moon, you can see outer space in all of its glory through an observatory. If this is what you are looking for, then there’s no better place to go to than the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, U.S.

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The Lowell Observatory is an astronomical observatory that was established in 1894, making it one of the oldest observatories in the U.S. It was founded by astronomer Percival Lowell of Boston’s acclaimed Lowell family. He was chosen as the overseer by a sole trustee which was a position handed down through the family.

According to the record books the first trustee was Lowell’s third cousin Guy Lowell (1916–1927). Percival’s nephew Roger Putnam served from 1927 to 1967, followed by Roger’s son Michael (1967–1987), Michael’s brother William Lowell Putnam III(1987–2013), and current trustee W. Lowell Putnam.

During the past years, the observatory had a strong mark in history. In 1961, several astronauts went to the Lowell Observatory as the moon was being studied for the Apollo Program. In 1965, it was officially designated to become a National Historic Landmark. Then in 2011, the Lowell Observatory was named by Time as one of the World’s 100 Most Important Places. One of the reasons why it received that title was that in 1930, the dwarf planet Pluto was discovered through the Lowell Observatory in 1930 under the guidance of Clyde Tombaugh.

The Lowell Observatory is operating a few several telescopes at three strategic locations in the Flagstaff area. The main facility, or the one that you should be most interested in located on Mars Hill which is a short distance west of the downtown area. It has the original 61-centimeter Clark Refracting Telescope. This has been stylized to use for public education and it is able to generate a total of 85,000 visitors yearly. Also located in the same area is the 33-centimeter Pluto Discovery Telescope which was the one used to find Pluto.

Just in 2014, the management behind the Lowell Observatory opened the 8,000 square foot facility. That observatory had many rooms that were equipped with the proper tools that observers can use to conduct research. It also has a room for processing photographic glass plates, multiple instruments used by previous astronomers, and a lot of artifacts for display and educational purposes. While there are spots you aren’t allowed to visit, there are more places to freely explore.

Our words can’t express just how amazing and grand the Lowell Observatory is especially for learning and visiting purposes. We’re sure that you are ready to explore the great beyond through this attraction but before anything else, here are some important reminders for you upcoming trip.

Operating Hours in Lowell Observatory

Luckily, the Lowell Observatory’s operating hours are pretty open. You can visit from Monday through Saturday from 10AM to 10PM. It is also open on Sundays but it closes earlier at 5PM. Do take note that there are scheduled tours in the observatory so you may want to check that out before you plan your trip. Also keep in mind that the observatory is closed during some holidays.

Prices at Lowell Observatory

First thing you should know is that you don’t need to reserve your tickets at the observatory. The ticket prices also covers day and evening programs. From Monday to Saturday, the ticket prices are adults: $17, seniors, AAA, college students, military: $16, kids and teens from 5-17 years old: $10. During Sundays, the prices are Adults: $12, seniors, AAA, college students, military: $11, kids and teens from 5-17 years old: $6

If you live nearby, you may want to avail the membership at the Lowell Observatory. Aside from free admission, here are other benefits according to management:

  • You’ll support innovative astronomical research and astronomy-themed STEM education and outreach. You’ll experience all our daytime and evening activities for free, as often as you like. Even if you’re not near Flagstaff, you’ll still get free admission to science centers near you that participate in the Association of Science and Technology Centers Passport Program.
  • You’ll stay on top of Lowell news. We’ll send you our quarterly newsletter, The Lowell Observer, along with regular e-mail updates about our ongoing research and education efforts.
  • You’ll get a 10% discount in the Starry Skies Shop!
  • Your membership is tax-deductible. Lowell is a 501(c)3 organization, so you can deduct your donations.
  • You’ll be supporting our mission. Your membership gifts support every aspect of our mission, assisting our researchers with their programs and helping us improve and broaden our outreach in Flagstaff through our Science Nights, Kids Camps, quality exhibits, and partnerships with schools on the nearby Navajo and Hopi reservations.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Lowell Observatory would be during the times where the night sky is visible. That being said, schedule your trip so that you can see the night sky openly. The observatory is open until 10PM during the weekends so you can fully enjoy your trip if you visit at around 5PM and check out the telescopes at 7PM.

As for the season, be sure to visit during the summer so that the skies are clear. Do keep in mind that the path to the telescopes are steep, so you may want to bring water if you are going to visit during the summer.

Things to Love About Lowell Observatory

When we think about observatories, many of us often only imagine it as the perfect place to see the stars at night. But Lowell Observatory is much different. True enough, it offers a nice place with high-quality telescopes that are perfect for viewing the night sky but this observatory can offer more than just that. And because of that, it’s the perfect place to add to your travel itinerary if ever you are visiting Flagstaff, Arizona, especially if you’re traveling with kids. In fact, it ranked 2nd in the most popular things to do in Flagstaff, Arizona. But what makes it different from other observatories? Here are some of the things to love about Lowell Observatory that will convince you to add this place to your Arizona itinerary.

1You can get a closer look at the sun

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Viewing the sun with a special telescope (Source)

Aside from the stars, many of us probably imagine that observatories are only for viewing the sun or the moon when there’s eclipse. However, at the Lowell Observatory, you can get to have a closer look at the sun anytime. Don’t worry, you will use special pieces of equipment for that and they vary seasonally so you can get to have the best view of the sun whenever. They also have an indoor program that highlights the features of the sun that includes live images.

2You can take a peek of the observatory’s past

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Inside Lowell Observatory’s Rotunda Museum

Lowell Observatory has a rich history too. And you can get to take a glimpse of it through its very own Rotunda Museum. Completed in 1916, this place definitely has a lot of artifacts for you to see, particularly the ones that are related to the discovery of Pluto as well as V.M. Slipher’s discovery of large recessional velocities of galaxies.

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The observatory also has a collection center that features historic items from the observatory’s collections such as the Percival Lowell’s 1911 Stevens-Duryea automobile. There is an exhibit that highlights Lowell’s lunar legacy as well and the life of Carl Lampland, one of Lowell’s astronomers.

3You can enjoy hands-on experiments

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A visitor enjoying the hands-on Science experiment (Source)

Another thing to love about the Lowell Observatory is that it’s not just about viewing the night sky as there is always a room for learning new things too. They have educational programs every evening (except Sundays) that help give its visitors a better understanding of the solar system through 45-minute hands-on science experiments. The observatory also lets its visitors learn more about the science of motion, light, and waves through hands-on experiments too.

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4You can learn more about the Red Planet

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A book about mars by the founder of Lowell Observatory, Percival Lowell (Source)

You can also get to learn more about Mars at the Lowell Observatory. As a matter of fact, the observatory has been a leader in Mars research since it was founded in 1894. With Lowell Observatory’s new Omniglobe system, you can gain more understanding of the Red Planet as well as how the observatory’s insights helped the world got to know more about the said planet.

5You can get a closer look at Pluto

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A proud sign located near the observatory (Source)

Lowell Observatory was apparently built for observing Mars. Initially, its founder believed that the high altitude and the thin atmosphere in the area were the observatory stands today would be ideal for getting a closer look at the Red Planet. However, they didn’t just get to have a better understanding of Mars but they also discovered Pluto. Hence, Lowell Observatory became best known for it. For that reason, it is the best place to be if you want to get a closer look at Pluto – literally and figuratively. Using the observatory’s own new Omniglobe and Pluto iscovery Telescope, you can get to see it closer than ever plus know more about its history – from how it was discovered and how the New Horizons mission shed more light to it.

6You can study constellations

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Lowell Observatory under a sea of stars (Source)

And again, the Lowell Observatory isn’t just about helping you get a better view of the stars through its telescopes. Here, you can also get to study more celestial bodies including constellations and it’s one of the top things to love about it as well. The observatory has an outdoor program where you even get to learn the mythologies behind them. What’s even better is that through this guided program, you can also learn how to navigate the night sky even better.

7Kids can join educational camps

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Kids posing for a photo op during camp (Source)

Speaking of learning, there are more ways to learn in the Lowell Observatory too as they provide learning camps that cater to kids from preschool to middle school. Another thing to love about the Lowell Observatory, right?

Camps, led by Lowell’s very own educators, are held on the first and third Saturdays of each month for the preschool camp. Here, kids, together with their parents, can explore topics in astronomy and physics. There are fun and educational activities too including science investigations, story time, games, engineering, art, music, and more.

For grade-schoolers, Lowell Observatory offers week-long day camps every summer where kids can learn about the solar system through fun hands-on experiments, hike, draw, and play games. They can also explore galaxies including learning how stars are born and die. They can even get to build a rover and send a personal message to a distant star system.

For middle schoolers, on the other hand, they can learn how to identify constellations, located deep-sky objects, and even operate portable telescopes. There’s no shortage of fun and learning here.

8Enjoy a new observatory

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Lowell Observatory’s newly added building that’s set to open this year (Source)

Lowell Observatory is expanding to provide more space and help everyone learn more about astronomy. In fact, the construction of the Giovale Open Deck Observatory has kicked off and we can expect that we can get to see an extension of the Lowell Observatory that will house sophisticated telescopes for visitors to see more celestial objects and explore the universe. Exhibits are expected as well where we can enjoy creative and interactive and graphic displays that will engage us to learn more about constellations the 110 Messier objects, preserving dark skies, and more.

Tips Before You Go

The Lowell Observatory indeed is a nice place to visit. But before you go there, there are some things that you need to remember before and during your visit so you can make the most out of it. Here are some of them.

  • Check the weather

While the observatory has fine telescopes, there are situations that you might just not get to have a clear view of the sky. And so, before your visit, don’t forget to check the weather first. In this way, you can enjoy the view more.

  • Try the activities

If you’re going to Lowell Observatory, make sure that you don’t just focus on the telescopes but try to participate in the activities too. There are activities held here and there and these will definitely make your visit more fun and help you learn more.

  • Don’t forget to bring the kids

While this place is open for people of all ages, we recommend that you bring kids with you. This is because Lowell Observatory offers a nice environment for both learning and fun that kids will surely love.

  • Don’t be shy and ask the staff

There are Lowell staff everywhere in the observatory and they are very friendly and knowledgeable so don’t be shy if you have queries as they can guide you around the facility and even share their knowledge with you.

  • Allot more time

Lowell Observatory has a lot to offer. While even a short visit is worth every second, we highly recommend that you allot more time for your visit so you can fully explore the area.