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Discover the Life and Legacy of Robert Burnham, Jr. in the Rotunda Museum

Robert Burnham, Jr.

Robert Burnham, Jr. at Lowell Observatory's Lawrence Lowell Telescope while he worked on the observatory's Proper Motion Survey. This is the same telescope that Clyde Tombaugh previously used to discover Pluto.

Discover the Life and Legacy of Robert Burnham, Jr. in the Rotunda Museum

While Robert Burnham’s tragic life ended in obscurity, his beloved handbook lives on and is a staple in the library of thousands of astronomers, professional and amateur alike. A new display in Lowell Observatory’s Rotunda Museum seeks to honor the life and legacy of the man who wrote Burnham’s Celestial Handbook during his time at Lowell Observatory.

Though much of the scientific information in the handbook has become outdated, it continues to receive high praise and regard due to its elegant prose and treasure trove of historical and cultural information. It has been referred to as “the real-life Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Burnham chronicler Tony Ortega.

The display features items like the IBM Selectric typewriter that Burnham used to type most of his Celestial Handbook, as well as photographs of the author himself while he worked at Lowell and an example of the cat paintings he sold to make a living after his work on Henry Giclas’s proper motion survey ended in 1979.

To learn more about the triumph and tragedy of Robert Burnham’s life, check out the View from Mars Hill from August 1,3, 2022.

A brief video presentation highlighting the features of the Robert Burnham display.