Astronomers Discover First Thorne-Żytkow Object, a Bizarre Type of Hybrid Star

In a discovery decades in the making, scientists have detected the first of a “theoretical” class of stars first proposed in 1975 by physicist Kip Thorne and astronomer Anna Żytkow. Thorne-Żytkow objects (TŻOs) are hybrids of red supergiant and neutron stars that superficially resemble normal red supergiants, such as Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion. They differ, however, in their distinct chemical signatures that result from unique activity in their stellar interiors.

TŻOs are thought to be formed by the interaction of two massive stars―a red supergiant and a neutron star formed during a supernova explosion―in a close binary system. While the exact mechanism is uncertain, the most commonly held theory suggests that, during the evolutionary interaction of the two stars, the much more massive red supergiant essentially swallows the neutron star, which spirals into the core of the red supergiant. Continue reading

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Cool Stars 18 Workshop Meets in Flagstaff June 9-13

Flagstaff, Arizona – Astronomers from around the world will gather in Flagstaff from June 9-13 for the 18th Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems, and the Sun (commonly known simply as “Cool Stars”, The workshop will be held at the High Country Conference Center (HCCC) and will feature a lecture for the general public on June 11.

More than 350 scientists have registered for this biennial workshop, which has been running since 1980 and is now one of the largest conferences for the professional astronomical community. Gerard van Belle of Lowell Observatory, who is chairing both the Scientific and Local Organizing Committees, said, “Cool Stars is a very prestigious meeting series. There have been a lot of important discoveries announced at these meetings over the years; for instance, in 1995 at Cool Stars 9 in Florence, astronomers announced the discoveries of both the first planet around another star and the first confirmed brown dwarf.” Continue reading

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Register Now for Lowell Observatory Summer Camps!

Lowell Observatory Kids Camp

Lowell Observatory is pleased to offer our third Kids Camp during the summer of 2014. These activity-based, week-long day camps meet Monday through Friday from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M., with graduation and family activities on Friday evening.  Scholarships are available and members enjoy a discount.  To learn more and register, click here. Continue reading

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Lowell Observatory Celebrates Earth Hour on March 29

Earth hour is a worldwide event held annually at the end of March. People are encouraged to turn off non-essential lights for one hour at 8:30 p.m. as a symbol of their commitment to the health of Earth.   The hope is that participants will be inspired to take action beyond the hour.

Light pollution affects the health of the planet and interferes with astronomers’ ability to study the universe.  Hands-on dark skies activities at the Lowell Earth Hour event will provide visitors with strategies for reducing light pollution and telescope viewing and stargazing activities will inspire guests to implement those strategies. Continue reading

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Retired Astronaut Mark Kelly Headlines Lowell Speaker Series

Astronaut Mark Kelly

Retired Astronaut Mark Kelly

Lowell Observatory is pleased to announce Mark Kelly as keynote speaker for the 2014 Lowell Speaker Series.  This event will take place on June 7, 2014 at the High Country Conference Center in Flagstaff. Captain Kelly is an American astronaut, retired US Navy Captain, best-selling author, prostate cancer survivor, and experienced naval aviator who flew combat missions during the Gulf War. The winner of many awards, including the Legion of Merit, two Defense Superior Service Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses, Kelly was selected as an astronaut in 1996. He flew his first of four shuttle missions in 2001 aboard the Endeavour, the same shuttle that he commanded on its final flight in May 2011. He has also commanded Discovery and is one of only two individuals who have visited the International Space Station on four different occasions. Since retiring from NASA, Kelly has written several books, including two for children.  He is married to former US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Continue reading

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Lowell Observatory’s Deidre Hunter Wins Prestigious Education Prize

Deidre Hunter, longtime astronomer at Lowell Observatory, has been chosen as the 2014 recipient of the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) Education Prize.

The AAS awards this prize annually “to recognize outstanding contributions to the education of the public, students and/or the next generation of professional astronomers.”  Hunter was chosen “for co-founding and successfully running for the last 17 years a science and astronomy education program for 5th-8th grade Navajo-Hopi students and their teachers (of Arizona, and New Mexico), a historically underserved and culturally isolated population.” Continue reading

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New Exhibit Black Holes: Space Warps & Time Twists Pulls Visitors to Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory’s latest traveling exhibit, Black Holes: Space Warps & Time Twists, opens January 18.  Produced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, this interactive display reveals what we know, don’t know, and think we know about one of the great space mysteries. Continue reading

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Lowell Observatory Welcomes NAU as Discovery Channel Telescope Partner

Flagstaff, Ariz. – Officials from Lowell Observatory and Northern Arizona University (NAU) signed paperwork Tuesday formalizing NAU as a Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) partner.

NAU joins current DCT science partners Boston University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Toledo.  The DCT is a 4.3-meter instrument, making it the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States.  It’s located 40 miles southeast of Flagstaff, near Happy Jack. Continue reading

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Clark Telescope to close for renovations on January 1, 2014

Leonard Nimoy visiting the Clark Telescope with Carolyn Shoemaker during a 1998 film shoot.

Leonard Nimoy visiting the Clark Telescope with Carolyn Shoemaker during a 1998 film shoot.

After 117 years of nearly continuous use, first as a research instrument and later as an educational tool, we will close the Clark Telescope on January 1, 2014 for renovation.

Reopening is expected some time in 2015.  During the closure, guests will still be able to see the Clark dome during most daytime tours.  For evening telescope viewing, we will use the newly renovated 16-inch McAllister Telescope as our primary public telescope.

More than a million guests have seen the Clark Telescope, including Leonard Nimoy, who visited with Carolyn Shoemaker at the telescope during this 1998 film shoot.  The upcoming renovation project will ensure that millions of guests in the future will be able to experience this classic telescope.

Director of Technical Services and telescope expert Ralph Nye has been working on details of planning and preparation for the renovation.  Next comes the dramatic step of removing the telescope, which will happen in January as weather allows.  Stay tuned for renovation updates…

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Is Lowell offering public viewing of ISON?

Comet ISON continues to speed toward the sun, brightening as it approaches a November 28 rendezvous with our nearest stellar neighbor.

Since ISON is only visible for a short time in the predawn hours, we don’t plan on any public viewing up through Thanksgiving.  If ISON does survive the sun and is clearly visible, we may then view it.

For more information about the potential fate of ISON, read Matthew’s Knight’s account at  To see a constantly updated calculation of ISON’s speed, and distance to both the sun and Earth, see Emory University’s Distance Calculator at

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