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Lowell Observatory, 1924 Opposition


Lowell Observatory by moonlight

Lowell Observatory, 1924 Opposition (2009) - Percival Lowell (1855-1916) was an accomplished businessman, diplomat, author and mathematician, but he is perhaps best remembered as the quintessential amateur astronomer. Lowell established his observatory in 1894 on Mars Hill under the pristine Arizona skies near Flagstaff. His fascination with the planet Mars was a major impetus for the project.

When, in 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported linear features on the observed disc of Mars at the very limit of visibility (actually somewhat beyond it, as it turned out), Lowell's own enthusiasm for the Red Planet was ignited. Later, he too thought he saw the lines through his own telescope. He posited these as not natural features, but a planet-wide network of irrigation canals built by intelligent Martians to save their dying planet. Schiaparelli and Lowell's lines were not canals. Whether they were optical illusions or simply constructs of the imagination, they in fact did not even exist. Nonetheless, artistic depictions of Mars replete with canal-like lines* persisted until Mariner 4's grainy images showed otherwise in 1965. While Lowell was wrong on the subject of intelligent Martians, his passion for the Red Planet did much to fire the public's interest in Mars as well as astronomy in general.

Mars Hill is depicted here on a moonlit night in August 1924. Lowell's 24-inch Clark refractor is trained on Mars during its close approach to Earth that year.

Today, Mars Hill is more densely populated with pine trees as well as more modern telescopes. The Clark refractor's observatory, looking very much as it did over a century ago, remains a shrine to a golden age of visual astronomy to stargazers around the world.

*Including, I must admit, my own early drawings... JH

Copyright 2009, James Hervat

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NOTE: the watermarks seen on the above image do not appear on the prints.

High-quality reproductions of all the artwork in this gallery are available from my secure Print Store. They are offered in a range of sizes, printed on paper, canvas or other print substrates. Prints can be ordered unframed or you can choose from a selection of framing and matting options. Orders are usually shipped in 2-3 business days and come with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee return policy. Please see the PRINTS page for more information and a link to the Print Store.


Detail view of Lowell Observatory

Model T truck in front of Lowell Observatory


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