Research at Lowell

More than 45,000 nights have passed since the first telescope arrived on Mars Hill. In that time, Lowell astronomers have been at the forefront of astronomical research. It was here that Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930 and V.M. Slipher made the first observations of the expanding universe nearly two decades earlier.

That tradition continues today with the observatory’s state-of-the-art Lowell Discovery Telescope and the ongoing discoveries being made by the current generation of Lowell astronomers. Every planet, star and galaxy has a unique story to tell, and Lowell astronomers are internationally recognized experts at revealing and interpreting those stories.

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Areas of Research

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Solar System

Planetary scientists continue a long tradition of studying bodies in the solar system, including the Sun, planets, moons, comets, meteors, asteroids, and Kuiper belt objects.

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Stellar Astrophysics

Another long standing tradition at Lowell is the the study stars, from supermassive Wolf-Rayet stars to low-mass M-dwarf varieties.

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Exoplanetary Systems

Lowell astronomers search for distant worlds around other stars and characterize their nature.

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Galactic & Extragalactic Astronomy

V. M. Slipher’s observations of the redshifts of galaxies a century ago were the first evidence for the expansion of the universe. Research on structures of galaxies and of the universe continues at Lowell today.

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Cultural Astronomy

Researchers not only study how the universe works, but also how humans perceive it and integrate these interpretations into culture.

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Instrumentation Research & Development

Our instrumentation team carries out a variety of work in support of research instrumentation, outreach telescopes, and historic preservation projects.

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Modern Research

We are living in a golden age of astronomical discovery, and Lowell Observatory is helping to lead the way.

Current astronomical research at Lowell is remarkably diverse. Some Lowell astronomers study the Sun, planets, comets, asteroids and other members of the solar system. Others study the lifecycles of stars and the planetary systems orbiting them. Still others study galaxies, mysterious dark matter, and the farthest reaches of the universe. Lowell astronomers, postdoctoral researchers and students publish dozens of research papers in leading scientific journals every year and this work is supported by millions of dollars in research grants from NASA, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Marley Foundation, and other generous gifts from donors.

While much of this research makes use of the observatory’s telescopes in the Flagstaff area, Lowell astronomers also use other major facilities around the world and in space, including the Hubble Space Telescope and more. Additionally, Lowell astronomers are key members of space missions such as the New Horizons flyby of Pluto and Ultima Thule, and use cutting-edge experimental facilities such as the Astrophysical Materials Lab at Northern Arizona University to learn more about the properties of these icy worlds. The Navy Precision Optical Interferometer at nearby Anderson Mesa, a unique collaborative effort between the U.S. Naval Observatory, the Naval Research Laboratory and Lowell, combines the light collected by multiple telescopes to achieve extremely high-precision measurements that surpass anything possible with a single telescope.

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Historic Research