The Evolving Universe, a Smithsonian exhibition, opens at Lowell on October 12

Tarantula Nebula, NGC 2070

Tarantula Nebula, NGC 2070, N. Caldwell & B. McLeod (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA).

Lowell Observatory is pleased to announce a new traveling exhibit, The Evolving Universe.  This exhibition, developed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, reveals the dynamic and evolving universe through breathtaking photographs and informative captions.

The Evolving Universe explores how the stars, galaxies and universe undergo the same stages as life on Earth: from birth, to maturity and, eventually, to death. This remarkable journey from present-day Earth to the far reaches of space and time will be on view at Lowell Observatory from October 12 through January 5 and will then continue to travel on an exciting sixteen city tour through 2017. Continue reading

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DCT’s First Science Results to be Published

Scientists have reached another important milestone with Lowell’s Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT). Comet experts Dave Schleicher and Matthew Knight, along with Stephen Levine, Commissioning Scientist for Lowell’s Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT), observed Comet 10P/Tempel 2 on five nights in early 2013.

These observations helped the team refine the rotational behavior of Tempel 2, results which they’ve described in a paper accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of The Astronomical Journal, a leading peer-reviewed scientific journal.

This represents the first refereed paper accepted for publication that uses DCT data. See an abstract at http://arxiv.org/abs/1309.2944

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William Lowell Putnam to Step Down as Lowell Observatory Trustee

Flagstaff, Ariz. — Today William Lowell Putnam announced his intent to step down from his position as sole trustee of Lowell Observatory.  Grandnephew of Observatory founder Percival Lowell, Putnam assumed trusteeship of the Observatory in 1987 following a successful career as a broadcast executive.

Serving as the Observatory’s fourth trustee since Percival Lowell’s death in1916, Putnam left an indelible mark on the organization.  During his tenure, the number of astronomers on staff has grown to 18, the facility has seen the addition of a new 6,500-square-foot visitor center and an archive facility, that, when construction is finished, will house the Observatory’s collection of rare photographic glass plates, manuscripts, library of scientific publication, and other documents and artifacts. Continue reading

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Two Lowell Exhibits for September: Pluto and the Planets and Earth from Space

Earth from Space - Pyramids | Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Institution Earth from Space Exhibit: Modern Cairo

Pluto and the Planets
Come experience the planets as you never have before! Lowell’s newest special exhibit, “Pluto and the Planets,” features giant planets, scaled to size. Visitors of all ages can explore the Solar System through an engaging display featuring a full-color inflatable Jupiter (15-feet in diameter), historic artifacts from Lowell’s own planetary research, and exciting hands-on activities.

Earth from Space
This Smithsonian poster exhibit presents large color reproductions of images captured by high-tech satellites constantly circling the globe, recording conditions and events that are nearly impossible to document on the planet’s surface. Rare views of events such as dust storms, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes are accompanied by text that explains how satellite imagery is gathered and used to explore Earth. Documenting environmental cycles, natural disasters, and man-made ecological effects, satellite images provide clues about the dynamic nature of our planet.

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“Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Meteors, Asteroids” exhibit now open

Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Asteroids, MeteorsGreat Balls of Fire: Comets, Asteroids, Meteors

Saturday June 22, 2013 – Monday September 2, 2013

Hot on the heels of another successful special exhibit, Lowell Observatory is proud to present “Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Asteroids, Meteors”.

The threat of a catastrophic impact from an asteroid or comet is a staple of popular culture. If there was a dinosaur killer in Earth’s past, is there a human killer in our future? What are the chances and how do we assess the risks? For that matter, what are asteroids, comets, and meteorites, and where do they come from? With Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Asteroids, Meteors, Lowell Observatory will bring recent discoveries and cutting-edge planetary science to our visitors. Continue reading

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Uncle Percy’s Kids Camp is back for Summer 2013!

After a resoundingly successful first year, Uncle Percy’s Kids Camp is back this summer. Just like last year, we’ve divided the camps according to age, with each age focusing on a topic: 1st/2nd grade (Solar System), 3rd/4th (Galaxies), and 5th/6th (Life on Other Worlds). Returning campers will not study the same topics as they did last year. We’ll be offering eight sessions during June and July (see below). But don’t wait to sign up as spots are filling very fast. Members get a discount on tuition. Scholarships are now available. Continue reading

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Lowell astronomer, collaborators detect molecules in exoplanet atmosphere

Artist’s rendering of HR 8799c at an early stage in the evolution of the planetary system, showing the planet, a disk of gas and dust, rocky inner planets, and HR 8799. Credit: Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics; Mediafarm.

Artist’s rendering of HR 8799c at an early stage in the evolution of the planetary system, showing the planet, a disk of gas and dust, rocky inner planets, and HR 8799. Credit: Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics; Mediafarm.

MOLECULES DETECTED IN DISTANT PLANETARY ATMOSPHERE 

A team of astronomers, including Travis Barman (Lowell Observatory), have made the most detailed examination yet of the atmosphere of a Jupiter-sized planet beyond our Solar System.

According to Quinn Konopacky, an astronomer with the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, and lead author of the study, “We have been able to observe this planet in unprecedented detail because of the advanced instrumentation we are using on the Keck II telescope, our ground-breaking observing and data processing techniques, and because of the nature of the planetary system.” The paper presenting this breakthrough discovery is being published in the journal Science on March 21, 2013.

The team, using the OSIRIS instrument at the Keck II observatory, has uncovered the chemical fingerprints of specific molecules, revealing a cloudy atmosphere containing water vapor and carbon monoxide. “With this level of detail,” says co-author Travis Barman, “we can compare the amount of carbon to the amount of oxygen present in the atmosphere, and this chemical mix provides clues as to how the planetary system formed.”

There has been considerable uncertainty about how planets in other solar systems formed, with two leading models, called core accretion and gravitational instability. When stars form, a planet-forming disk surrounds them. In the first scenario, planets form gradually as solid cores slowly grow big enough to start acquiring gas from the disk. In the latter scenario, planets form almost instantly as the disk collapses on itself. Planetary properties, like the composition of a planet’s atmosphere, are clues as to whether a system formed according to one model or the other. “This is the sharpest spectrum ever obtained of an extrasolar planet,” said co-author Bruce Macintosh, an astronomer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “This shows the power of directly imaging a planetary system – the exquisite resolution afforded by these new observations has allowed us to really begin to probe planet formation”.

Although the planet’s atmosphere shows clear evidence of water vapor, that signature is weaker than would be expected if the planet shared the composition of its parent star. Instead, the planet has a high ratio of carbon to oxygen – a fingerprint of its formation in the gaseous disk tens of millions of years ago.  As the gas cooled with time, grains of water ice formed, depleting the remaining gas of oxygen. Planetary formation then began when ice and solids collected into planetary cores. “Once the solid cores grew large enough, their gravity quickly attracted surrounding gas to become the massive planets we see today”, said Konopacky.  “Since that gas had lost some of its oxygen, the planet ends up with less oxygen and less water than if it had formed through a gravitational instability.”

“Spectral information of this quality not only provides clues about the formation of the HR8799 planets but also provides the guidance we need to improve our theoretical understanding of exoplanet atmospheres and their early evolution,” comments Barman. “The timing of this work could not be better as it comes on the heels of new instruments that will image dozens more exoplanets, orbiting other stars, that we can study in similar detail”.

The planet is one of four gas giants known to orbit a star called HR 8799, 130 light-years from Earth. The authors and their collaborators previously discovered this planet, designated HR 8799c, and its three companions back in 2008 and 2010. Unlike most other planetary systems, whose presence is inferred by their effects on their parent star, the HR8799 planets can be individually seen. “We can directly image the planets around HR 8799 because they are all large, young, and far from their parent star. This makes the system an excellent laboratory for studying exoplanet atmospheres,” says coauthor Christian Marois, an astronomer at the National Research Council of Canada. “Since its discovery, this system just keeps on surprising us!”

Although the planet does have water vapor, it’s incredibly hostile to life – like Jupiter, it has no solid surface, and it has a temperature of more than a thousand degrees as it glows with the energy leftover from its original formation.

The study of these super-sized planets will continue, taking advantage of a recent upgrade to the OSIRIS instrument (developed at the Dunlap Institute) and access to the Keck Observatory provided by support from NASA and NExScI.  “These future observations will tell us much more about the planets in this system,” says Konopacky. “And the more we learn about this distant planetary system, the more we learn about our own.”

ADDITIONAL MEDIA:

▪ Science article posted early and AAAS release: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/03/13/science.1232003.full

http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2013/0314_exoplanets.shtml

▪ Artist’s rendering of HR 8799c at an early stage in the evolution of the planetary system, showing the planet, a disk of gas and dust, rocky inner planets, and HR 8799. Credit: Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics; Mediafarm.

▪ Supporting images of the HR 8799 system also available upon request.

 

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Science contact:

Dr. Travis Barman, Astronomer

e: barman@lowell.edu

 

Media contact:

Tom Vitron, Media and Communications Coordinator

e: tvitron@lowell.edu

p: (928) 233-3260, (928) 853-5233 cell

 

About Lowell Observatory: Lowell Observatory is a private, non-profit research institution founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. The Observatory has been the site of many important findings including the discovery of the large recessional velocities (redshift) of galaxies by Vesto Slipher in 1912-1914 (a result that led ultimately to the realization the universe is expanding), and the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Today, Lowell’s 20 astronomers use ground-based telescopes around the world, telescopes in space, and NASA planetary spacecraft to conduct research in diverse areas of astronomy and planetary science. The Observatory welcomes about 80,000 visitors each year to its Mars Hill campus in Flagstaff, Arizona for a variety of tours, telescope viewing, and special programs. Lowell Observatory currently has four research telescopes at its Anderson Mesa dark-sky site east of Flagstaff, and recently completed its four-meter class research telescope, the Discovery Channel Telescope. For more information: www.lowell.edu.

 

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It’s time to “Restore The Clark”!

Help us “Restore The Clark” by giving to our crowdsourcing campaign on indiegogo.com.

Often called the “People’s Telescope,” more than a million visitors have seen through the world-famous 24″ Clark Telescope in the past 20 years alone and it’s time for it to get a complete overhaul.

We launched our 60-day campaign on March 13th because it’s Percival Lowell’s birthday (born in 1855). Just like Uncle Percy, who was under pressure to set up his observatory in time to see a close pass of Mars in the 1890s, we have a mere two months to raise the $256,718.50 needed to completely refurbish the 117-year old Clark.

From Percy’s study of Mars to V.M. Slipher’s detection of the expanding nature of the Universe to the Apollo Moon mapping, this telescope is an important and productive icon of American astronomy. Help us keep this telescope productive as a public outreach tool and help ensure that millions more will get the chance to experience the telescope and its spectacular optics in the century to come.

We are very eager to make this campaign successful. Lowell is a private, non-profit institution based in Flagstaff, Arizona and dedicated to excellence in research and outreach. Our resources are always stretched thin and we need your help with this critical project. Each donor will receive a special perk commensurate with their gift, such as the exclusive 3D lucite etching of the Clark.

For multimedia campaign updates, see our indiegogo page and follow us on social media.

For more about the Clark Telescope, click here.

Thanks for helping and we hope to see you soon on Mars Hill!

Help Us Restore The Clark!

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Where did “Uncle Percy’s Adventures in Space” go?

Are you looking for “Uncle Percy’s Adventures in Space“? We temporarily removed the logo from our home page in order to promote the “Restore The Clark” campaign. Simply click here and the adventures will begin anew!

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“Pluto and the Planets: A Scale Model Exhibit” extended through Sunday!


patp_specialeventsbannerCome experience the planets as you never have before! Lowell’s newest special exhibit, “Pluto and the Planets,” features giant planets, scaled to size. Visitors of all ages can explore the Solar System through an engaging display featuring a full-color inflatable Jupiter (15-feet in diameter), historic artifacts from Lowell’s own planetary research, and exciting hands-on activities.

Scale models of Solar System objects sit alongside historic displays, informational panels, and more...

Scale models of Solar System objects sit alongside historic displays, informational panels, and more…

Open daily until Sunday March 17th. Visit the official special-exhibit page.

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