Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility "The Secrets of Lowell Observatory" - Transcript » Lowell Observatory

“The Secrets of Lowell Observatory” – Transcript

Star Stuff – Episode 03: “The Secrets of Lowell Observatory”

Listen to the full episode here.

[Transcript below.]

02:51.00
Cody Half-Moon
Hello and welcome to star stuff a space poddity this is Cody Half-Moon

03:16.99
Madi
And this is Madison Mooney or Madi Mooney either or.

03:25.60
Cody Half-Moon
And today we have Kevin Schindler who is our legend, our historian, our ultimate and internal tour guide, author all the awesome things. Kevin who are you who are you? What are you doing here who is Kevin that’s right, we had to trick you somehow.

03:44.70
Kevin Schindler
Who am I that is a great somebody said free food and I showed up.

03:46.37
Madi
Who is Kevin Schindler?

04:01.20
Cody Half-Moon
So, your title is Historian. What other titles have you had at Lowell and how long have you worked here?

04:02.60
Kevin Schindler
Right? Well let’s see I’ve worked here almost twenty-seven years so I started out as a tour guide and then became my supervisor and then managed the education program I think because everybody else left and so they were left with somebody how to run it and then at one time I think it was Maddie’s first day here and she said look at that guy. He looks like he’s old as rock. He must be the historian and then and it stuck. And so that’s been my title since then.

04:37.88
Cody Half-Moon
Yeah, that’s how you got it. That’s how you got the title.

04:40.48
Madi
Yeah, so part of being a Historian is just making up historical events. We’re not sure how much of a little history is actually made up but that’s okay.

04:45.76
Cody Half-Moon
100% that’s the only way to get.

04:54.25
Kevin Schindler
Like I learned well from a man named Henry Giclas who worked his old career here at the observatory and he was the elder statesman into his early late eighty’s early 90’s and he would tell stories and I wrote them down furiously and nobody else had been around to know it. Of course, when he got older the same story started changing characters and things. So, I think you know Historian you get to a certain age and then yeah you start modifying the story.

05:23.57
Cody Half-Moon
Well, you just picked the most interesting version right.

05:33.51
Kevin Schindler
Yes, well, it’s like my years in public program. It became clear. You know as we’re giving tours if you get a laugh like talking about the frying pan on the telescope or that people shocked themselves when the dome floated in Salt water If you get a laugh that’s instantly part of the tour and then the history is sort of massaged.

05:48.41
Cody Half-Moon
Right.

05:51.80
Kevin Schindler
And so early on one of the things I took on myself was to try to limit those sorts of perturbations and in accuracy.

05:58.26
Cody Half-Moon
My favorite thing whenever I happen to find myself on a tour is making the long running joke to myself really. It’s an inside joke with myself every building I say oh yeah, Kevin Schindler actually lived here. Because I’m pretty sure you’ve lived in at least 3 of the buildings.

06:17.61
Kevin Schindler
I have and I’ve slept in a couple of others like you know, late nights I don’t know how many people have slept in the Pluto discovery dome. But I have because we had a film crew late one night and they were coming back in the morning so rather than driving back home I just found a blanket and slept there. And that was really cool.

06:28.64
Cody Half-Moon
That’s awesome.

06:34.19
Cody Half-Moon
Probably you and Clyde.

06:36.16
Kevin Schindler
Yes, he probably fell asleep. I know his wife dropped off a couple times when she helped early on but she fell asleep and messed up the plate, so he didn’t let her stay.

06:45.52
Cody Half-Moon
Ah, that’s awesome.

06:48.56
Madi
I ah I slept in the chalet 1 time for I got to stay there for like a week that was that was great I had a good time.

06:53.19
Kevin Schindler
Now yeah, the chalet is a cool building because that’s the beginnings of the discovery of dark matter happened there because that’s where they developed the instruments used that Kent Ford and Vera Ruben used to discover dark matter, so you have that similarity with dark matter your birth booth.

07:12.37
Madi
Exactly, that’s actually when I became goth is staying in that building, I just like absorbed the residual dark matter.

07:21.77
Cody Half-Moon
Yeah, yeah.

07:25.70
Kevin Schindler
That was before you knew about the people who were murdered there.

07:31.33
Madi
Well, I mean I got the vibes like I could sense it? I actually did write my article about the chalet while I was staying there which was cool because I could just go around and take pictures of whatever and like get inspiration because I was there by myself.

07:43.00
Kevin Schindler
Yes, right? And I should say for the record. No one was murdered there. Just to be clear. Yeah.

07:48.17
Madi
That you know of I was there again. Kevin I was there unsupervised for a week.

07:52.67
Cody Half-Moon
Who knows what happened that week.

07:54.99
Kevin Schindler
I remember when there was construction going on and there you know piles of dirt lying around but I didn’t know what that was for.

08:01.22
Cody Half-Moon
Now you know, add it to your books and just to confirm the chalet when you’re going up Mars Hill to Lowell observatory it is on the right and it’s just like a little housing unit that they built for the astronomers originally is that correct.

08:02.70
Madi
And you don’t need to know.

08:18.79
Kevin Schindler
Yeah, it’s cool because it was built as a combination observing area on one part of the building and then a place to sleep on the other side and so astronomers wouldn’t have to go far in it and the building is cool because it opened like a clamshell. And it’s sealed now and is now our home of our machine staff and grounds crew.

08:48.40
Cody Half-Moon
It’s interesting. It’s something that you don’t, you don’t really think about it when you think about working at an observatory like from a professional services standpoint. When I started managing the marketing team at Lowell a lot of my friends and family were like man, you’re there late you’re there that late I was like observatory so it’s not exactly an 8 to 5 for a lot of people.

09:16.41
Kevin Schindler
And you know I lived up here as you said and several houses through the years and would come over at really weird hours to do some work or whatever and there are very few times that I’ve been here. Through the years that there isn’t somebody working late at night three o’clock in the morning pick a time and there’s somebody here.

09:42.68
Madi
Actually, one of the things I asked for Christmas was a red flashlight for the times that I’m stumbling around in the dark at Lowell like when we do our live streams things like that. Um, it’s one of my favorite things I got.

09:53.20
Cody Half-Moon
I want one of those so bad.

09:53.21
Kevin Schindler
That’s not a bad thing to have because years ago I never carried a flashlight. You know you get dark adapted I’d leave the office and it would be dark and I hear this rustling sound and so I decided to go back and get a light and I was walking by these oak trees and there’s a big porcupine. Just at head level and it was only a couple feet away from it that was the rustling sound. So, after that like I think that’s about when I started carrying a flashlight. Just about that time.

10:23.50
Cody Half-Moon
And I’m sure the Javelina sealed the deal for you.

10:31.45
Kevin Schindler
Well, they Javelina was cool and once we had a skunk and skunks aren’t unusual up here but we had just opened the what’s now known as the dyer telescope behind the old Clark Twenty Four inch and I would always walk backwards with talking to visitors. So, I could face them. And I was walking backwards there in this little boy said hey there’s a skunk behind you and I thought he was being a smarty pants because that’s what little boys and big boys too I guess but that’s how they are and sure enough there’s a skunk behind me. It was right before our sunset. It was starting to darken some, and we stopped in the skunk. Just. Stared at us I flashed my flashlight at it, and it ran into a drain pipe right underneath the sidewalk and so we waited a minute it stayed there so I took the flashlight off we started walking and ran out and went back out of the sidewalk and so I flashed my flashlight down again and it ran into the dream pipe. So, for about 45 minutes we rotated staff members who held the flashlight shining at the drain pipe so that the skunk wouldn’t come out.

11:35.63
Cody Half-Moon
Well, it wanted to enjoy that amazing view of Flagstaff from the overlook.

11:40.56
Madi
Something about Flagstaff skunks. It’s like all the ravens up here or are they crows are ravens I don’t know they’re not afraid of anything a skunk held me hostage in my car once. that was why I was late to a birthday party because of it because the skunk despite me banging on the window would not get away from my car.

11:46.26
Cody Half-Moon
I Think ravens.
12:00.24
Kevin Schindler
And was laughing the whole time.

12:00.41
Cody Half-Moon
I love that the urgent text. There’s like this urgent text from Maddie she was like help a skunk is keeping me hostage like what?

12:08.50
Madi
I think hostage is the word I used at late he was making eye contact with me. He was fully like I am not letting you leave this car and then of course as soon as everyone came outside to save me. He took off and then I just looked insane. It was great.

12:19.00
Kevin Schindler
Um, so did he really give you the stink eye as they say.

12:26.74
Cody Half-Moon
I Love it.

12:28.10
Madi
Kevin is also the dad joke expert on campus.

12:29.00
Kevin Schindler
Um, I’m my dad and a papa a grandpa. So of course, I’m loaded with them.

12:34.33
Madi
Just elite levels of dad and grandpa jokes.

12:39.42
Cody Half-Moon
It’s the highest form of humor.

13:16.00
Cody Half-Moon
So, one of our questions Kevin was actually what is the strangest thing you’ve ever experienced while working at lol is that the skunk story or do you have something else.

13:25.83
Kevin Schindler
Well, I mean that would relate to staff and colleagues but I probably shouldn’t go into that. But I mean the skunk is kind of a fun one night one time I was looking through a solar telescope and a plane just happened to fly through the field of view. And it was really cool. The shadow flying and if you didn’t know any better you could say UFO and so you know it caught me by surprise and I realized what it was but it’s not like I could look up at the sun. You know, look away from the filtered telescope and look at the sun but that was pretty cool. But I think that I think one of the coolest things that’s kind of weird I guess is back in I think it was 2003 we used to have a living history program where we dress up as dead astronomers and tell their lives and I played Percival Lowell because you know I look and sound so much like him you know 2 eyes, a mouth, hair, and so we had finished it and we are toasting the success of the program and toasting uncle Percy, Percival to our founder, who of course is entombed on the site here and he’s in a big sarcophagus which is inside of the mausoleum. And so, we went inside the mausoleum and we each had a glass of wine and cigars and we are toasting them because Percival Lowell liked a good cigar and we walk outside and this is in the fall Mars was up in the sky the red planet. We walked outside. And the whole sky was deep red. It was ah it was a northern lights. The only time I’ve ever seen them. They’re very rare in Flagstaff and here we are in the mausoleum toasting Uncle Percy, Mars up and the sky is this deep red. It was really eerie.

15:12.47
Cody Half-Moon
And you’re dressed as Lowell, right?

15:16.90
Kevin Schindler
And I was dressed as Lowell. Yeah, it was really bizarre.

15:51.66
Cody Half-Moon
Did you did you like immediately freeze and then like look off into the distance and start chanting when that happened just to freak everyone out.

16:00.75
Kevin Schindler
We were already chanting around the mausoleum. Maybe that’s what I think that’s what brought it I think it was this special chant. Yeah, when Mars is in the sky.

16:03.81
Cody Half-Moon
That was already happening.

16:10.85
Cody Half-Moon
Yeah, this weird book we found with Runes I don’t know.

16:18.55
Madi
I think something about dressing like Lowell people is. There’s something about the energy that shifts like ah Cody and I during our Halloween tours at Lowell took shifts being the ghost of Constance Lowell which was so much fun. Ah, but at one point I had to walk through the Slipher building. In like this floor-length black dress with nothing but a little lantern in my hand and it was pitched black and there was like the red, it’s like super cold yeah, and like the red lights that go on at night in the hallways and I was like I’m going to run into Const and she’s gonna be mad at me. Because I am running around like being this like spooky widow ghost and she probably doesn’t appreciate it.

16:45.10
Cody Half-Moon
Freezing.

17:00.72
Cody Half-Moon
I ran up I ran out to turn off Kevin’s office light dressed in the big goth gown and the lantern, and I was like yeah, I’m just going to run up there and you know click it off real quick and I was walking back down in a pitch dark building the one that was built to look like Saturn called the rotunda. And I got spooked, I had my little candle lantern, but it made it worse.

17:18.66
Madi
You didn’t have your little lantern? That made it worse. Honestly, I was like I’m living a horror movie right now.

17:27.61
Kevin Schindler
I think I think Constance would have been proud and Constance was Perceval Lowell’s wife who he married when he was in his fifties and you guys dressed perfectly because for years after he passed away in 1916 but she didn’t, she lived until the 1950’s and whenever she visited. She would always come, and this is before my time I should point out but this is stories I’ve heard from Henry Giclas and others but she would always dress in black instead the mausoleum for hours at a time and so I think you guys captured that kind of spookiness really?

17:49.49
Cody Half-Moon
Are you sure?

18:01.31
Cody Half-Moon
Are you serious? I didn’t know that no.

18:03.14
Madi
Yeah, you didn’t know that.

18:05.25
Kevin Schindler
Oh yeah. Yeah, there’s some pictures of her, I mean they’re black and white, but you can tell it’s a very basic black all black, and staff that were here at the time always commented that she would just sit there for hours at a time.

20:36.67
Cody Half-Moon
I think this is a really good lead in into our first topic our first 2 topics actually are spoopy. We’ve got mausoleum. So as Kevin mentioned Percival Lowell is still on mars hill entombed in this beautiful mausoleum, right? Like overlooking historic downtown Flagstaff. It’s really quite a place to sleep for the long sleep and there was a really interesting creepy story that Kevin you told when I first got here to Lowell that I don’t know. Do you mind sharing it again I think it’s really neat.

21:23.72
Kevin Schindler
Sure, there was the creepy part was about you coming to Lowell or the story itself which right so and wondering where I’ve lived.

21:28.26
Cody Half-Moon
Yes, specifically yes and incessantly asking you questions. Yes, trying to find out where Kevin lives.

21:43.61
Kevin Schindler
I heard this story when I first got here back in the 1990’s and then a friend of mine who worked at and NAU for years. She worked in the education program confirmed that she had lived back during this time, but it was back in the 1970’s and our visitor center was then in the rotunda and some visitors at night. I guess it wasn’t in the night it was in the afternoon they went up to the mausoleum because there’s a great view from there and they were looking at the mausoleum and they saw this stain this liquid coming out of the building, and it was red color. They came running back to the visitor center and said there’s blood coming out the door like. You know psyched amity own horror sort of thing and our staff went up there and staff was a little skeptical because Percival Lowell had been dead for several decades. It’s probably not blood but they went up there and it was during the monsoon season there’s a lot of metal in the in the structure of the building and there’s a pool of rust that was coming out the door and that was the blood that they saw and apparently for years there was that there was kind of a stain there that that some people took his blood, but we know it’s not or we think it’s not.

22:55.77
Cody Half-Moon
That’s amazing.

26:05.55
Kevin Schindler
Well, you know the building is really neat you know we joke about it but it’s you know we certainly respect Percival Lowell and his final resting place and it’s really neat because he’s within but fifty yards of the telescope that he used that he loved so much and fifty yards of the building where you two have an office and you know we’re kind of reminded every day you know you kind of take it seriously that we’re carrying on. We’re carrying the baton for Percival Lowell. And we better not screw it up because he’s right there watching us.

Cody Half-Moon
Yeah, it’s incredible that a tourist can just come up here and walk around and do a history tour and see the mausoleum and look through the 125-year-old telescope and then look through a brand new telescope and see a globular cluster. I don’t know it’s really a cool place. I like how it kinda encapsulates all the things.

29:37.77
Cody Half-Moon
The spooky stories are obviously Maddie and my favorites of all of them.

29:47.87
Madi
Yeah.

29:55.89
Cody Half-Moon
So, we had to start with the spoopy ones but there are a lot of really neat stories more relating to the astronomers. Um Kevin do you mind sharing some of those with us too.

30:08.70
Kevin Schindler
Sure! Well, I think one that’s kind of interesting is you know there’s a lot of serendipity in science. There’s a lot of serendipity in everyday life I think things that just you know for whatever quirky reasons they happen. But one I think is interesting is, you know Lowell Observatory is specifically one of our early scientists V.M. Slipher, was the first person to observe the expanding nature of the universe. And based on his observations and the work of others Edwin Hubble came up with the theory of the expanding universe a decade half later but the instrument that V.M. Slipher used is the twenty-four-inch refractor of the classic telescope that still sits in the big birthday cake looking dome on the side of the hill, but it required an instrument called a spectrograph which astronomers still use these instruments today. But the observatory hadn’t had 1 but we got this spectrograph. It’s kind of a quirky story because when the observatory was first set up, we borrowed a couple telescopes. Not the 24 inch but a couple smaller ones use them for the first year and then Percival Lowell directed that they be returned to a fellow named John Brashear and then to Harvard college observatory and as Andrew Douglas related in the cut in stories years later. They needed some cleaner they wanted to clean the lenses. So. There was a boy hanging out on the hill as he recalled, and they sent him downtown to get some good alcohol to clean the lens and as Douglas said he thinks the boy thought he said wood alcohol because when they put it on the lens it etched a hole a little hole in the lens.

31:51.27
Cody Half-Moon
Oh okay.

32:03.20
Kevin Schindler
And that really damaged the lens I mean they could eventually fix it. But this was set a lens that we had borrowed and now okay here it is back and is damaged and so Percival Lowell felt really bad about that and so he wrote to John Brashear and said this happened I want to make up for this.

32:13.40
Cody Half-Moon
Oopsies.

32:22.95
Kevin Schindler
In some way how much can I pay you for repairing this and John Brashear never really got back with them. And so, Percival Lowell said, okay, you know I haven’t paid you back for this so I’m gonna pay you back in another way I’m going to order an instrument from you. And I want to give you. I want to pay you back for that mistake. So, let’s make it the best instrument money can buy the spectrograph. And it turns out that’s the instrument that Slipher used to discover the expanding universe, so you know it’s hard to say if, you know Lowell is still going to get a spectrograph, but you wonder, you know, he wanted to get the best thing money could buy just to pay back for that damage.

32:55.50
Cody Half-Moon
That’s really cool.

33:06.30
Cody Half-Moon
For the guy that left him on red. Yeah, so this spectrograph, didn’t it discover something pretty darn cool?

33:10.71
Madi
Just too mad to say anything, speechless.

33:21.37
Kevin Schindler
Yeah, it’s the first evidence of the expanding universe starting 1912

33:25.50
Cody Half-Moon
Which is my favorite. Ah I might like Pluto is awesome. We love Pluto. We adore Pluto. We’re throwing an entire festival for Pluto. But my favorite my favorite discovery related to Lowell is the Expanding universe just because it led to so many revelations in how we understand life and I think the existential part of my brain really likes that bit.

33:54.76
Madi
Really mine doesn’t just like the universe is already infinitely huge and you’re telling me. It’s getting bigger. Are you kidding me.

34:01.60
Cody Half-Moon
And it started from a bang and so now we know like where we came from and why this happened and it’s like the whole genesis story of Astronomy which is amazing.

34:14.46
Kevin Schindler
And you could argue that it’s the most important Discovery ever made here. It’s certainly one of the most important because as you said it really changed our idea, I mean that to tell us the universe was much larger and much older. But there’s another cool thing. You mentioned the big Bang theory. And I have to mention this because it’s just one of these fun nerdy things. Years ago, I was watching TV waiting for the family come home and it was when the big bang theory had just come out the TV show and so every once in while we’d been watching it you know notice this poster on the wall know they have a lot of nerdy stuff is supposed to look like a telescope and thought that was kind of cool and so I’m waiting for the family and this scene comes up with a telescope so I hit pause because I was tivoing it and it was not only telescope, it was our Clark Twenty four inch. It was a poster. Yeah, it was a poster of an astronomer named Leonard Martin and the picture was taken in the 1980’s Leonard had studied mars and it is a picture of him standing in the telescope and you can just barely see mars in the background and this poster is on the door of Leonard and Sheldon, and so of course that inspired me to want to watch all the episodes and it was on their closet door in season one and then they use different props in the other season. So, when you say the big bang theory. It’s not just you know V.M. Slipher Edwin Hubble but it’s also the TV show it made a cameo appearance on there.

35:38.81
Cody Half-Moon
That’s so cool.

36:01.19
Cody Half-Moon
Yeah, the reason I watched any of the big bang theory is because Leonard Nimoy was on there. My late husband yes.

36:08.67
Kevin Schindler
Rock paper scissors Spock you have the picture with him, right?

36:21.20
Cody Half-Moon
Well, I wrote Leonard Nimoy fan mail in college. The picture I have is with Will, with will Shatner where I’m sobbing uncontrollably? Which makes me glad and very relieved I did not meet Leonard Nimoy before he died because I would have highly embarrassed myself.

36:29.47
Kevin Schindler
And the restraining order the time is run out on that right?

36:39.15
Cody Half-Moon
Yes, and it’s you know unrelated actually yeah, and speaking of just like contributions that Lowell has made there are I think a few neat stories that we want to talk about regarding the like we’ve written here self-taught astronomers. Can you explain that a little bit and their contributions?

37:06.99
Kevin Schindler
Right? You know you think about astronomy today if you’re an astronomer today you’ve gone to school. You got interested in somehow, but you’ve gone to school undergraduate maybe a master’s you got your PhD, you’ve done a lot of schooling and maybe learn some on your own certainly. But if you’re doing research at a research facility you probably have had a lot of schooling. Well, if we go back, you know a century a couple centuries. There were a lot of scientists who were called you know gentleman astronomer gentleman scientist was one where. With people of means that didn’t have to work. You know at a factory or somewhere else they could afford to support themselves and some of them did science on their own Charles Darwin is a great example, Percival Lowell is another example, and so Percival Lowell was, he went to college went to Harvard got a degree in mathematics was a brilliant student but he was really in terms of astronomy he was self-taught and it really seems like okay that was yesterday years ago that doesn’t happen anymore. But you know. As the years went on and you look at some of the discoveries here. Our you know, professional college trained astronomers have made amazing discoveries but some of the things. The observatory is most known for, you know that. Percival Lowell’s on Mars and the supposed intelligent life there that was a self-turned astronomer Clyde Tombaugh who started working here was when he was 24 years old.

38:48.33
Cody Half-Moon
And he was so young we have his bust-on campus and it’s like this little kid almost.

38:54.51
Madi
He was 23 right?

38:57.92
Kevin Schindler
Yeah, he was 23 when he started here and then 24 when he when he discovered Pluto and he was self-taught he was growing up on the farm in in Illinois then Kansas he learned all astronomy on his own and became proficient at observing and making drawings and such that’s what got on the job of Lowell. And he discovered the ninth planet and then if we jump ahead another a couple decades Clyde Tombaugh photographed more than 80% of the sky in looking for Pluto and then other planets. Well years later one of the astronomers Henry Giclas decided let’s rephotograph the same area as the sky and compare the stars imaged from one survey to those taken a couple decades ago and look at how the star positions have changed of something called proper motion. Well one of the people they hired. To help out was this guy named Robert Burnham and the reason he started he grew up in Prescott and Henry Giclas read in the newspaper one day that this self-trained amateur astronomer in Prescott had discovered a comet and it was making headlines so that led Henry Giclas to talk to Robert Burnham and he offered him a job here and Robert Burnham worked on the proper motion survey for a couple decades. But for most astronomers he’s remembered as the guy who created this immense remarkable 3 volume compendium about the night sky where he talks about every of the 88 constellations and talks about the science the mythology, he talks about coins fossils everything and it’s called, people know it as Burnham celestial handbook and he did that while he was working here.

40:48.28
Cody Half-Moon
That’s amazing.

40:51.72
Kevin Schindler
Again. Self-trained. Self-trained scientists. So, it’s need to think even in an era when, you know astronomers working in Observatories. You’re generally going to you know have PhD there have been these people that have. Trained themselves and made remarkable discoveries and I think that’s really neat.

41:13.92
Madi
I mean I’m 24 now but I think I might have also started at Lowell when I was 23 or maybe 22 but I just remember thinking like imagine I cannot even imagine discovering a planet right.

41:14.14
Cody Half-Moon
That’s really cool.

41:30.71
Cody Half-Moon
It’s insane.

41:33.67
Madi
I’ve always kind of felt a connection with Clyde for that reason though, just age wise not nothing else. Obviously, we’re not alike in any other ways because he discovered a planet and I haven’t had anything but cereal for the past like three meals. So.

42:53.14
Cody Half-Moon
I love how wholesome like just Percival Lowell got a spectrograph because he felt bad for a fellow business partner and wanted to be a good person in his industry and Clyde Tombaugh is like this sweet farm boy with like nerding out in a cellar. I don’t know I love a nerd, but I think that’s super wholesome. Yeah, we also have the highest observing station in the world. Ah, can you tell us about this.

43:30.52
Kevin Schindler
Well, you’re in the right place.

43:42.27
Kevin Schindler
Right? Well, you know Flagstaff if you’re familiar with Flagstaff and there’s some distinct things about flagstaff there’s the aroma of the ponderous pines. There’s the thirty-degree difference between day and night in the temperature.

43:54.66
Cody Half-Moon
Smells like vanilla. It’s amazing.

44:02.14
Kevin Schindler
But one of the most distinct things are the San Francisco peaks and the peaks are great if you’re bad with directions because as long as you know where the peaks are you have a frame of reference of where you are.

44:09.72
Cody Half-Moon
I feel so called out.

44:21.54
Kevin Schindler
In fact, some of our sidewalks here that go from the visitor center to the Slipher building rotunda they point there a line to the north. So that’s a good way of cheating. But also, if you know where the peaks are you can know it. But when Andrew Douglas he came out here in 1894 on behalf of Percival Lowell, he came to Arizona to find a good place to set up this observatory. So, Douglas went to several places in Arizona which was not a state, yet tombstone Tucson Tempe Prescott and he set up telescopes in all these places. And measured took meteorological measurements like Barometric pressure and temperature and such he set telescopes up at night to look at you know the quality of telescope viewing and then hit the eleventh site she tested was on the side of Mars Hill and that’s what led to Lowell observatory being established here in Flagstaff at the site we are here. Well Douglas continued testing other sites. Um and he went up in the San Francisco peaks couple times and 1 thing with astronomy is the higher the elevation the less air between you and the stars and the less interference. So, if you go outside at night, you see stars twinkling or you see the moon is really orange when it’s rising that’s due to the atmosphere to light being bent being refracted being messed up by the air. And the lower the elevation the thicker, the atmosphere the more the viewing is going to get messed up and so in general observatories are at higher elevations the higher the elevation the less air you have to look through. It’s like being in the bottom of a swimming pool if you open your eyes and everything’s fuzzy. Air does the same thing so we want to reduce the amount of fuzzy and so he tested some up on the San Francisco peaks and for years the observatory set up telescopes up there to get this higher elevation and at one point it was the highest supposedly the highest astronomical observing station in the world at Eleven and a half thousand feet.

00:00.00
Cody Half-Moon
The last thing that we want to go over. We usually do a portion of the episode where we read news headlines that are interesting, or fun somewhat related to the topic since today’s topic is. Cool secrets and stories of Lowell. We have some interesting headlines for you guys. The first one I’m going to read is Martians build 2 immense canals in 2 years vast engineering works accomplished in an incredibly short. Time by our planetary neighbors. This was published by the New York Times August Twenty Seventh Nineteen Eleven Kevin can you give us some context for the story and were you the still the point of contact for media at the time.

00:49.68
Kevin Schindler
That was a little bit before I got there to the observatory. Yeah, that was that was the middle of the Percival Lowell, I hate to say fewer but really the consciousness he built that there’s life on Mars and you know when we think about today whenever there’s talk about possible life elsewhere in the solar system or beyond Percival’s name is always brought up because he really popularized this idea and you know this is nineteen Eleven he from the 1890’s through about 1907 is when he really did a lot of Mars research and really through public talks and scientific articles and newspaper articles and such he really built this this consciousness that there’s life out there and life on Mars and in 1911 by that point. The majority of scientists had discounted his ideas and yet it was still making headlines in papers like the New York Times that Percival Lowell reported these canals and today we know these canals aren’t even real There are some sort of optical aberration. But even years after the scientific community had in general discounted them I think they were still kind of hedging the bets you know, I think people still hoping okay, probably not there. But what if there is and I think that’s something that’s the mentality that we still have today. So that’s one of many newspaper stories that sounds like yellow journalism of Perst and Pulitzer who mastered this at this time but really this was New York Times as a serious science story.

02:34.95
Cody Half-Moon
I love the story of Percival Lowell and his questioning if there is life somewhere else and going forward with that like hypothesis to prove himself right or wrong and I think the reason I love this so much is because of the way I grew up in the scientific community. It was always there are no dumb questions and that the more questions you ask, and people laugh at you. That’s when you’re going to be able to like discover something that no one else would because they were afraid to you know. Look a certain way or ask a silly question. And in doing so of course he created this immense legacy in this huge research institution that we have today. So, I don’t know I love the story of Percival Lowell and the Martians.

03:25.73
Kevin Schindler
And you know his ideas you know the canals are real his ideas. You know so many of them were just not right? But the fact is that he you know started this observatory to further humankind’s knowledge of the universe. And he sure as heck did that and you look at his heritage here. We are one hundred twenty-five plus years later going stronger than ever and not only current research which we just had a press release that were out yesterday. 1 of our astronomers working on a project relating to work can help us better understand dark matter. So, this research is thriving more than ever and yet you know we still harken back to personal Lowell because so many of his ideas. He was such a compelling speaker and writer that. You know, a lot of his ideas weren’t right, but it got us thinking about life out there and one of the things that he pointed out was you know to make an advance in science you have to have imagination and it’s not just you know, fanciful making up things but the imagination to look at things. And come up with plausible solutions for them and that really is a big part of doing science is the creativity. The imagination to come up with and synthesize and so I think that’s something important. He left us with and it’s cool to think about this and the legacy he left and how his legacy continues to grow today.

05:03.61
Cody Half-Moon
And I have 2 follow-up questions with that is there any connection between Lowell seeing these canals in Mars and cataracts disease.

05:13.64
Kevin Schindler
Well, there’s certainly been potential connection. Bill Sheehan who’s a good friend of ours a good friend of mine. He’s an astronomy historian written gosh a couple dozen books now. He and some others have suggested that the canals were some sort of reflections of the blood vessels in the eyes that sort of thing. So that’s 1 idea that it could be you seeing sort of a mirrored image of our ocular device our eye, could be. You know during Percival’s lifetime there are other scientists who did different studies like one they had they made some drawings of dots and made them a different distances apart and then had observers stand further and further apart and you get to a certain point in the human eye tends to. Connect the dots as it were to where you have a line of dots and then at a certain point. It looks like it’s a line and so there’s a lot of different things that can account for it. It’s amazing that we know today based on you know, excellent ground-based telescopes and of course spacecraft that have flown out there. The canals aren’t there. They’re irregular channels but not these linear features that crisscross the entire planet and yet his ideas really spurred on so much more research and really the genre of science fiction exploded largely because Percival Lowell. Edgar Rice Burroughs H.G. Wells because Percival Lowell built this consciousness of life in the universe life on Mars you know, just like today. We’re certainly going to be seeing books with a covid theme. With the covid background back then life on Mars that was a big topic in everybody’s minds and so writers like H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote novels based on this this phenomenon.

13:49.59
Cody Half-Moon
We have one more space news item. The headline of this one is ninth planet discovered on edge of solar system first found in 84 years published again by the New York Times March Fourteenth Nineteen thirty

14:06.42
Madi
Keyword planet.

14:07.92
Cody Half-Moon
Yeah, so what is this ninth planet. You’re talking about.

14:09.94
Kevin Schindler
Well, I think a lot of people are familiar with astronomy or Lowell observatory might recognize the date because it was the day before that Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto here. So, this is the New York Times announcement of Pluto being discovered and it didn’t have a name yet. They had discovered this planet. And it had been informally called, the observatory was searching for so-called planet x the unknown planet which is what Percival Lowell called this theoretical planet. He had died in 1916 so he wasn’t around for this. But the search in 1930 was based on Percival Lowell’s original search in 1930 was based on Percival Lowell’s original searches and this made news around the world because up to this point 2 planets had been quote unquote discovered Uranus and 1781 and Neptune in 1846 and actually in 1801 supposed planets were discovered but those were reclassified as asteroids or minor planets. So, 2 planets have been discovered. None in America so this is the first one in the Twentieth century. The first one in the United States discovered by a self-taught farmer a result of a search started. Twenty-five years earlier that went off and on. There’s a great story in so many ways and you know since then that had been 84 years since the discovery of Neptune and the discovery of Pluto it’s now been ninety-two years since the discovery of Pluto and holy cow we’re coming up on a century since Pluto is discovered and so you know we still celebrate Pluto I think you know what we should do is some sort of festival.

15:57.93
Cody Half-Moon
We should ah celebrate that or something. We should do a festival. This is I like this idea.
16:02.44
Madi
Yar.

16:05.60
Kevin Schindler
And we love it so much and Pluto is the heart shape. Maybe you know I love Pluto Festival or you know something like that. Yeah heart. That’s not a bad one.

16:16.90
Cody Half-Moon
We’ll workshop it. Maybe I heart Pluto. I don’t know we’ll work it. We’ll work on it.

17:11.51
Kevin Schindler
I think you’re onto something we should do a festival every year you know especially as we’re heading toward 100 years and we’ve learned so much about Pluto. And the outer solar system in the years since especially with the new horizons mission that flew by gosh half a dozen years ago, we’re holding the I heart Pluto festival every year in Flagstaff with partners around the community and because of covid last year’s was completely virtual this year we’re still planning in person with virtual aspects. If covid requires we’ll make it all virtual but we’re planning in person element and we’re gonna have an art show with space artists and I think to me that. If you pick one special night. It’s February eighteenth and we’re gonna have the event at the Orpheum where Clyde Tombaugh saw a movie the night, he discovered Pluto and our theme for the night is the night of discovery. So of course, it’s celebrating Pluto’s discovery but really on a larger scale.

18:10.46
Cody Half-Moon
Yes, so excited.

18:27.99
Kevin Schindler
The human drive to explore and the thrill of discovery and so we have a panel that includes Don Johanson who discovered the Fossil Hominid Lucy in 1974. It’s so cool.

18:39.58
Cody Half-Moon
I’m so excited. Ah, what a cool exhibit if you never got to see the Lucy exhibit when it was going around it was one of my favorite things ever.

18:48.78
Kevin Schindler
Yeah, so it’s going to be a really fun time where we can talk about this exciting exploration that we do, and all the information is out a website.

19:01.16
Cody Half-Moon
And who else is going to be speaking at that event.

19:06.17
Kevin Schindler
So our panelists include Don Johanson Alan Stern who’s the principal investigator for New Horizons mission twice has been named one of the hundred most important people in the world by time magazine. We have an astronaut Nancy Currie-Gregg who flew into space 4 times. Al Tombaugh who is Clyde Tombaugh’s son and Kathy Olkin who actually works here at Lowell years ago. She’s up at the southwest research institute and she was involved in New Horizons and she’s also, largely involved with the Lucy mission and the Lucy mission whereas the Lucy fossil that Don Johanson discovered helped unravel the evolution of humans the Lucy mission named after the fossil hominid is going to help us unravel the evolution of the solar system. So, all these people are coming together and then our director Jeff Hall is going to be monitoring that conversation. It’s going to be really fun and then at the same event our friends in town mother road brewing has created another specialty brew in honor of I heart Pluto festival. This year’s beer is Lowell observatory lager, LOL, and we’re gonna have that they’re making cans for it and the can design is spectacular. It’s gonna be so much fun.

20:24.22
Cody Half-Moon
LOL. Oh I’m so stoked. We’ve got sushi named after Pluto. We’ve got an axe throwing game named after Pluto. We’ve got a cock, 2 cocktails 1 at the runway which is a really amazing nightclub downtown who’s also our main sponsor for this festival and a cocktail at Historic Brewing downtown. It’s just so neat to see everyone coming together to celebrate Pluto.

20:57.61
Kevin Schindler
Yes, it’s really, you know it’s fun for us. But it’s also gosh we need some fun stuff the last couple of years and what a great. What a great reason to celebrate.

21:03.21
Cody Half-Moon
And Pluto is adorable. My favorite thing John Compton who was on our last episode always makes the joke. Because Pluto the naming of the planet was made from a contest where people would write in suggestions, and it was this eleven-year-old girl named Venetia right? Who suggested Pluto and he’s always joking that it’s this little girl who’s like excuse me sir. How about we name it after the god of death.

21:38.83
Madi
Yeah, when I was 11 I were like let’s call it midnight sparkle like.

21:52.60
Cody Half-Moon
I mean it works because it’s like a dark little gloomy icy planet. It’s our little goth a little goth guy out there I Love him the God of the Underworld.

21:58.88
Kevin Schindler
we have the underworld the most distant cold region of the solar system. That’s where Pluto resides.

22:07.61
Madi
What do we know what part of England that she was from because we have to make sure that we have the accent like in the right dialect you know? Yeah, she could have been from Essex she’d been like oh I love.
22:13.28
Cody Half-Moon
We do? Yeah, I just know she was an 11-year-old English girl, so it has to be in the.

22:17.82
Kevin Schindler
Venetia Bernie

22:23.54
Cody Half-Moon
Oye mate, what about the God of the underworld thought of that in it. Oh God I hope. It’s icy in it. It makes sense you get it. Bit cold in it. Literally.

22:27.76
Madi
Ah, yeah, bit stupid in it.

22:35.00
Madi
Bit cold in it. Like literally literally babes. Sorry British people.

22:37.80
Kevin Schindler
Alright are on it.

22:43.51
Cody Half-Moon
Oh my gosh every time I see her picture in the Rotunda she is this adorable girl with like this little pixie cut. She will always have that accent now in my head I love it so much.

27:46.57
Cody Half-Moon
Well thank you for joining us on this super cool episode of Star stuff.

28:23.45
Kevin Schindler
Great to hang out with you guys.

28:20.30
Cody Half-Moon
And if anyone has any question about the history of Lowell or any of the stories. We mentioned here today as Maddie said earlier. Send those questions into Twitter at lowellobs our info@lowell.edu email or you can join our star stuff discord and we will get Kevin to answer those questions and read them out on our next show.

28:49.90
Madi
We also have a starstuff Twitter as well at @StarStuffPod.

28:57.98
Cody Half-Moon
That’s right we do have our star stuff. @StarStuffPod. We’re posting all the episodes, but we also got Haley and Wesley to post on there and share fun things too. So, it’s definitely worth a follow.