Profile of the Day: Percival Lowell

Posted March 13, 2018 by Amanda | No Comment
Profile of the Day: Percival Lowell

Percival Lowell

On this day in 1855, astronomer Percival Lowell was born in Boston, Massachusetts. The founder of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, Lowell’s research would form the beginnings of the work that led to the discovery of Pluto 14 years after his death.

Lowell was born to a wealthy and prominent New England family. His great grandfather, John Lowell, was one of the first Judges to be appointed by President George Washington, and later by President John Adams, for the newly created federal courts.

Inspired by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli’s discovery of “canals” on Mars, Lowell decided to devote his work to the study of Mars. He founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona and spent over a decade extensively studying Mars, championing the theory that these channels were signs of intelligent life on the planet. Although the public was enthralled by the possibility, the astronomical community was skeptical and by the 1960s, the existence of the channel-like features were disproven.

Lowell spent the last decade of his life in search of a possible ninth planet, which he called “Planet X.” It wasn’t until 14 years after his death that astronomers finally discovered Pluto, whose name was inspired by Lowell’s initials, “PL.” However, in 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet.

Although his theories were disproven, Lowell’s enthusiasm and passion for his work had a lasting impact on the field and even in science fiction. Lowell died on November 12, 1916 at the age of 61. He was buried on Mars Hill near his observatory.

Explore Percival Lowell’s family tree on Geni and share how you’re related to the astronomer.

View Percival Lowell’s Geni Profile

Image: Library of Congress

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