It’s All Relative

By Lauren Amundson

On January 14, 1931, V.M. Slipher sent a letter to Albert Einstein inviting him and his wife to visit Flagstaff and Lowell Observatory. Slipher, the observatory’s director, mentioned that Einstein would likely be interested in seeing the Grand Canyon on his trip to Arizona. He offered to take the world-renowned physicist to see the Painted Desert or Meteor Crater, both within 100 miles of Flagstaff.

A return letter from Einstein dated January 25 and written in German expressed regret that he was unable to make the trip to Flagstaff.

Einstein and his wife did make it to the Grand Canyon on their return trip across the U.S. from Pasadena. There’s a famous photo of him at Hopi House, and legendary Grand Canyon photographer Emery Kolb made an image of Einstein and his party at the South Rim.

Sixteen years later, as the world was still recovering from World War II, Lowell Observatory received another letter from Einstein. He outlined the need to educate the citizens of the world about the “simple facts of atomic energy and their implications for society” and requested assistance in raising $1,000,000 (about $11,794,350 in today’s dollars) for this task. We don’t know if Lowell Observatory responded, as there are no further letters between the two in the archives.

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