February 15, 2024

Questions and Submissions

Announcing a Writing Contest to Celebrate the Grand Opening of Lowell Observatory’s New Marley Foundation Astronomy Discovery Center

We invite you to commemorate Lowell Observatory’s November 2024 expansion—the 40,000 square foot Marley Foundation Astronomy Discovery Center, a place where “infinite wonders await,” by participating in our writing contest.

From Lowell Observatory on February 18th, 1930, the young astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, a distant speck of a planet that expanded our conception of the outer fringes of our Solar System. Knowing where to look and what to look for makes us gaze more intensely. In 2020, scientists discovered that beneath Pluto’s icy shell, there likely flows a liquid ocean, conjuring in our imaginations the idea of habitability, even in the most distant reaches of space.

Even so, here on Earth is the only life we know. The night sky activates dreamers—be they scientists or writers—to document what we understand and imagine what we cannot yet grasp. And what the night sky has always invited is for us to speculate on both the preciousness of our lives and the vastness of a universe that is beautiful and complex.

Contest deadline is February 15, 2024, see submission details below.

Contest Information

Your writing prompt is to submit a one-page poem, micro-essay or flash fiction (up to 500 words long), that engages with the ideas suggested above—about how our minuteness against the scale of the universe places us in a unique position to celebrate both what we know, and what we may discover through inquiry and imagination.

The contest is open to all entrants, but especially encourages submissions from residents of Flagstaff and members and supporters of Lowell Observatory. There are two age categories for entries, one for K-12 writers, and the other for writers 18 and above.

Lowell Observatory invites interested contestants seeking inspiration to attend one of three pre-opening tours of the Astronomy Discovery Center construction site. If you would like to reserve a spot on this free, guided tour, please contact Lowell Observatory’s Hannah Rounds at

The tour dates are:

– Friday, January 19, 11am to 12pm
– Thursday, January 25, 4pm to 5pm
– Saturday, January 27, 10am to 11am


Winners and runners-up will be informed by phone or email of the contest results.

Initial contest entries will be judged by a panel of readers from Northern Arizona University’s creative writing faculty and Lowell Observatory scientists and staff. Winners and honorable mentions will be selected by a special judge (TBA).

Please direct questions to:

Send entries by Feb 15, 2024 to Entries will be judged anonymously and should be formatted as follows:

• Email body – Please include the following brief details:

  • Name of entrant
  • Entrant’s age
  • Phone number (if no phone number is provided, entrant will be contacted via email by default if their entry is selected as a winner or a runner-up)
  • Title of entrant’s submission
  • Commentary on submission: In no more than 100 words, please tell us a little bit about what inspired your submission, something that we do not know about the work you put into it. Think of this question as an invitation to reveal to us something about yourself as a writer—about how something you read, some childhood memory, some personal quirk or obsession, might have led you to write this piece.

• Email Attachment – Please attach a Word document or pdf file with your creative response. Do not include your name or contact details in this document, as entries will be judged anonymously.

• For a poetry submission: Include the poem title, and a poem up to 1 page long. 12-point Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins, and single spacing (unless your poem uses alternative line or stanza breaks).

• For a prose (nonfiction or fiction) submission: Include the nonfiction or fiction title, and a work of prose up to 500 words long. 12-point Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins, and double-spaced lines.

• Only one entry per person is accepted, regardless of genre. Please do not submit multiple pieces and only send original, unpublished works.

•We will not accept the use of Chat-GPT or other AI-generated text. Judges will screen and discard any writing suspected of being artificially generated.

Contest prizes in both age categories include:

  • First place: $500, 1-year membership to Lowell Observatory, publication in the Lowell Observer*, and an invitation to read the winning entry at one of the opening events of the Marley Foundation Astronomy Discovery Center
  • Second place: $250, 2 day passes to Lowell Observatory, and publication in the Lowell Observer*
  • Up to three honorable mentions: 2 day passes to Lowell Observatory
* The Lowell Observer is the Observatory’s newsletter, distributed three times annually to more than 6,000 readers.