Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 34

Restoring a Massive Antique

Lowell's Great Refractor
Klaus Brasch & Ralph Nye

Made NEw

E. WEBB

At age 119, Lowell Observatory's legendary "Mars telescope" is reborn.
The 24-inch refractor that stands atop Mars Hill in
Flagstaff, Arizona, holds a special place in the annals of
astronomy. It was built by the renowned firm of Alvan
Clark & Sons for Percival Lowell, the Mars enthusiast
and wealthy black sheep of a patrician Boston family.
The telescope was commissioned in 1897 and has been
in active use nearly ever since.
Lowell Observatory and its colorful patron seized the
world's attention at the turn of the 20th century when
Lowell described and mapped the supposed canals on
Mars; he proposed that they were the works of an advanced civilization, designed to carry water from the
polar ice caps to the rest of a dying planet. The "canals
on Mars" brought fame and later shame to the institution, as it gradually became clear that they were illusory
- effects of contrast, atmospheric seeing, and the ten34

March 2016 sky & telescope

dency of the eye to connect dots and regularize randomness when working at the limits of human vision. Or at
least Lowell's vision and that of his dutiful assistants.
Despite this controversial beginning, the Lowell
refractor soon made substantial contributions to science
in the capable hands of three pioneering Lowell astronomers: the brothers Vesto Melvin ("VM") Slipher and Earl
C. Slipher and Carl Otto Lampland. Among many other
achievements, VM used a modified Brashear spectrograph on the Clark to obtain the first spectra of spiral
FINISHED The 24-inch f/16 refractor, ready for another
century of service. The 12-inch "finderscope" is mounted above
it; the 4-inch finderscope is out of sight. Access stairs lead to
the classical German equatorial mount. The observatory and
telescope were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.



Sky and Telescope - March 2016

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky and Telescope - March 2016

Contents
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Cover1
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Cover2
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 1
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Contents
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 3
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - A
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - B
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 4
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Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Cover3
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Cover4
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