American Archives Month

By Stacey Christen


October is American Archives Month. Archivists around the country will be participating in special events raising awareness of the value of archives. Here at Lowell Observatory we will have archivists answering questions live and on twitter. We will also be conducting behind the scenes tours. If you’re in Flagstaff, come and join us. If not, go check out your local archives. I guarantee they’ll have something surprising to show you. Get those questions ready and we’ll do our best to bring you inside the wonderful world of archives.

Comet of the Century

By Stacey Christen

cropped-colormars19051         Far-ultraviolet camera photograph Of Comet Kohoutek
         taken from Skylab on Christmas Day, 1973.

Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek discovered a new comet in March 1973.
Comet Kohoutek had not appeared in nearly 150,000 years. Due to reach
perihilion (the point at which the comet is closest to the sun) on 
December 28, 1973, Comet Kohoutek captured the attention of the public
and was dubbed "comet of the century" by the media. 

Comet Kohoutek had a major presence in popular culture. It was
featured in the Peanuts comic strip, episode 2F11 of The Simpsons,
and was the inspiration for several albums and songs, including
the instrumental track, "Kohoutek" by the band Journey. 

A View to a Comet

By Kevin Schindler

As revealed in earlier blogs, the Putnam Collection Center brims with correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, and other paper documents.  Each of them has a story to tell and, taken collectively, record the exceptional history of Lowell research and the people who did it.  Yet our collections contain so much more, in the form of artifacts. These range from meteorites and other objects crafted by nature, to manmade instruments and other equipment critical to carrying out astronomical research.

Take, for example, this fabulous “comet finder” eyepiece, manufactured by the Alvan Clark & Sons firm of Massachusetts. Early 20th-century astronomers at Lowell attached this 3-inch-focal-length, bronze apparatus to the 24-inch Clark Telescope, allowing for wide-field views of comets such as Halley.  It served as witness to a century of profound human activity, from solar system research to the education of school children.

For years this comet finder was lost, but our crack collections team just found it last week. Now properly curated, it acts as a tour guide to the past, ready to share its story.



Home Sweet Home

By Lauren Amundson

In addition to the telescope domes, administrative offices, and shop facilities here on Mars Hill, there are also several residences. The first house built here, called the Baronial Mansion and occupied by Percival Lowell, began in 1894 as a four-room cottage. Staff added an additional six rooms in 1902, and by the time of Lowell’s death in 1916, the house had eighteen rooms. The original structure sat one hundred feet north of the Clark Telescope dome. It contained bedrooms, servants’ quarters, a garage, bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, library, porch, and a “secret passageway” that ran below the main floor. By 1959, it had fallen into disrepair and become a fire hazard, and the observatory demolished it. 




Mad Libs: Archives Edition

By Stacey Christen

I remember having to practice penmanship in elementary school. At the time, I didn’t believe it was important. As someone who spends hours trying to decipher the handwritten words of others, I now see its value.

A quick look at the first two sentences in the letter below yields this message:

1957 Jan 20

Dear Dr Roemer,

Slow to vaccine & um be lies from California aww hope gun are by now corn for hubby salted fur in stay at lw Naval Observatory at was time & torn.

I donut sunburn gun will hour much fine for comets for a while and to I am finding his & surfermail.


I am fairly certain my quick transcription has a few inaccuracies. After some time looking closely and using context clues, I believe the correct transcription is:

1957 Jan 20

Dear Dr Roemer,

Glad to receive your letter from California and hope you are by now comfortably settled for your stay at the Naval Observatory in Washington.

I don’t suppose you will have much time for comets for a while and so I am sending this by surface mail.

To those of you creating handwritten correspondence, please think of the archivists and practice your penmanship.