Flagstaff, AZ. – Lowell Observatory is temporarily closing its on-site visitor program in Flagstaff, Arizona, to help deter the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). As a nonprofit research institution that attracts large groups of people from around the world, the observatory considers the safety of both visitors and staff paramount. Doors will close to the public at 10 pm local time today, March 12, and the suspension of the visitor program will last until the situation improves. To date, no cases of coronavirus have been reported by observatory visitors or staff.
Lowell Observatory Director Dr. Jeff Hall said, “We are an institution of science, and we would be doing a disservice to our mission, our staff, our guests, and our community to do less than what the data are clearly telling us. I will be sad to see our campus silent this weekend, but it is the right thing to do.”
Each year, more than 100,000 national and international visitors come to Lowell Observatory to discover the wonders of the universe. As the spring break travel season ramps up across the United States, observatory officials believe this closure is in the best interests of staff and visitors alike. This effort is intended to help slow the spread of coronavirus. In lieu of on-site visitation, Lowell Observatory is developing online digital experiences that will engage would-be visitors within the safety of their own homes.
“With the current uncertainty around circulating virus in different communities in the US, it is prudent to consider the risks of exposure when large groups from various communities come together, for tours or other social activities,” said Dr. Dave Engelthaler of TGen North, the Flagstaff branch of the Translational Genomics Research Institute. “I applaud Lowell Observatory’s forward-thinking actions to protect the health and safety of its staff and visitors.”
The observatory’s astronomical and planetary research programs will continue with an emphasis on remote observing. Astronomers who use the observatory’s 4.3-meter Lowell Discovery Telescope for their research will be encouraged to observe remotely.
To further support its public-facing staff, the observatory has instituted an unlimited sick leave policy and has committed to maintaining the income streams for its staff through other duties that do not require face-to-face interaction with the public.
About Lowell Observatory
Lowell Observatory is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) research institution, founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell atop Mars Hill in Flagstaff, Arizona. The observatory has been the site of many important discoveries, including the first detection of large recessional velocities (redshift) of galaxies by Vesto Slipher in 1912-1914 (a result that led ultimately to the realization that the universe is expanding), and the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Today, the observatory’s 14 tenured astronomers use ground-based telescopes around the world, telescopes in space, and NASA planetary spacecraft to conduct research in diverse areas of astronomy and planetary science. Lowell Observatory currently operates multiple research instruments at its Anderson Mesa station, east of Flagstaff, and the 4.3-meter Lowell Discovery Telescope near Happy Jack, Arizona. The observatory also welcomes more than 100,000 guests per year to its Mars Hill campus in Flagstaff, Arizona, for a variety of educational experiences, including historical tours, science presentations, and telescope viewing.
Kevin Schindler, Lowell Observatory