High Five is a huge fan of Pluto (the planet, not the dog), and spends a lot of time arguing that it should regain its planet status. So, we were really excited that our drive from Las Vegas, NV to Phoenix, AZ was taking us past the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona where Pluto was first discovered.
The Lowell Observatory was founded by Percival Lowell in 1906 who searched for a ninth planet in our solar system up until he died. After his death the search was continued by Clyde Tombaugh, a young astronomer, who finally found the planet in 1930. Pluto remained an officially recognized planet until 2006 when the International Astronomical Union came out with an agreed upon definition of what a planet is. Unfortunately under this definition Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet or a Kuiper belt object.
Visiting the Lowell Observatory and seeing the telescope that was used to find Pluto was really interesting. We really enjoyed walking the observatory grounds and viewing the various telescopes used to search the night sky. The solar system walk, galaxy walk, and universe walk that are set-up on the grounds are really informative. We especially enjoyed viewing the sun through a solar telescope set-up by an observatory staff member.
After walking the grounds and viewing the sun we headed inside the main building where the kids were able to take part in an interactive exhibit that taught them all about asteroids. They each received an ID badge that they used to complete games and lessons on asteroids. With each completed activity they gained points and increased their “space rank”. The final activity was a quiz which tested their knowledge on everything in the exhibit. While High Five still doesn’t agree that Pluto should have lost its planet status we all agreed that the Lowell Observatory is a wonderful place to visit and learn about astronomy.