Percival Lowell

Percival Lowell

Overview
Percival Lawrence Lowell (March 13, 1855–November 12, 1916) was a businessman, author, mathematician, and astronomer
Astronomer
An astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as planets, stars and galaxies.Historically, astronomy was more concerned with the classification and description of phenomena in the sky, while astrophysics attempted to explain these phenomena and the differences between them using...

 who fueled speculation that there were canals on Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

, founded the Lowell Observatory
Lowell Observatory
Lowell Observatory is an astronomical observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell Observatory was established in 1894, placing it among the oldest observatories in the United States, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965....

 in Flagstaff
Flagstaff, Arizona
Flagstaff is a city located in northern Arizona, in the southwestern United States. In 2010, the city's population was 65,870. The population of the Metropolitan Statistical Area was at 134,421 in 2010. It is the county seat of Coconino County...

, Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

, and formed the beginning of the effort that led to the discovery of Pluto
Pluto
Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun...

 14 years after his death. The choice of the name Pluto and its symbol were partly influenced by his initials PL.

Percival Lowell was a descendant of the Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 Lowell family
Lowell family
The Lowell family settled on the North Shore at Cape Ann after they arrived in Boston on June 23, 1639. The patriarch, Percival Lowle , described as a "solid citizen of Bristol", determined at the age of 68 that the future was in the New World.Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop needed...

.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Percival Lowell'
Start a new discussion about 'Percival Lowell'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Quotations

The whole object of science is to synthesize, and so simplify; and did we but know the uttermost of a subject we could make it singularly clear.

Preface

Formulae are the anaesthetics of thought, not its stimulants and to make any one think is far better worth while than cramming him with ill-considered, and therefore indigestible, learning.

Preface

That Mars is inhabited by beings of some sort or other we may consider as certain as it is uncertain what these beings may be.

Chapter XXXII, Conclusion

War is a survival among us from savage times and affects now chiefly the the boyish and unthinking element of the nation.

Chapter XXXII, Conclusion

So far as thought may peer into the past, the epic of our solar system began with a great catastrophe. Two suns met. What had been, ceased; what was to be, arose. Fatal to both progenitors, the event dated a stupendous cosmic birth.

Chapter I, p.3

In the great desert of northern Arizona the traveller, threading his way across a sage-brush and cacti plain shut in by abrupt-sided shelves of land rising here and there some hundreds of feet higher, suddenly comes upon a petrified forest.

Chapter IV, p.125
Encyclopedia
Percival Lawrence Lowell (March 13, 1855–November 12, 1916) was a businessman, author, mathematician, and astronomer
Astronomer
An astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as planets, stars and galaxies.Historically, astronomy was more concerned with the classification and description of phenomena in the sky, while astrophysics attempted to explain these phenomena and the differences between them using...

 who fueled speculation that there were canals on Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

, founded the Lowell Observatory
Lowell Observatory
Lowell Observatory is an astronomical observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell Observatory was established in 1894, placing it among the oldest observatories in the United States, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965....

 in Flagstaff
Flagstaff, Arizona
Flagstaff is a city located in northern Arizona, in the southwestern United States. In 2010, the city's population was 65,870. The population of the Metropolitan Statistical Area was at 134,421 in 2010. It is the county seat of Coconino County...

, Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

, and formed the beginning of the effort that led to the discovery of Pluto
Pluto
Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun...

 14 years after his death. The choice of the name Pluto and its symbol were partly influenced by his initials PL.

Biography


Percival Lowell was a descendant of the Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 Lowell family
Lowell family
The Lowell family settled on the North Shore at Cape Ann after they arrived in Boston on June 23, 1639. The patriarch, Percival Lowle , described as a "solid citizen of Bristol", determined at the age of 68 that the future was in the New World.Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop needed...

. His brother A. Lawrence
Abbott Lawrence Lowell
Abbott Lawrence Lowell was a U.S. educator and legal scholar. He served as President of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933....

 was the president of Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, and his sister Amy
Amy Lowell
Amy Lawrence Lowell was an American poet of the imagist school from Brookline, Massachusetts who posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.- Personal life:...

 was an imagist poet, critic, and publisher.

Percival graduated from the Noble and Greenough School
Noble and Greenough School
The Noble and Greenough School, commonly known as Nobles, is a coeducational, nonsectarian day and boarding school for students in grades seven through twelve. It is located on a campus in Dedham, Massachusetts. The current enrollment of 550 students includes a balance of boys and girls, of whom...

 in 1872 and Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 in 1876 with distinction in mathematics. At his college graduation, he gave a speech, considered very advanced for its time, on the "Nebular Hypothesis." He was later awarded honorary degrees from Amherst College
Amherst College
Amherst College is a private liberal arts college located in Amherst, Massachusetts, United States. Amherst is an exclusively undergraduate four-year institution and enrolled 1,744 students in the fall of 2009...

 and Clark University
Clark University
Clark University is a private research university and liberal arts college in Worcester, Massachusetts.Founded in 1887, it is the oldest educational institution founded as an all-graduate university. Clark now also educates undergraduates...

.

In the 1880s, Lowell traveled extensively in the Far East
Far East
The Far East is an English term mostly describing East Asia and Southeast Asia, with South Asia sometimes also included for economic and cultural reasons.The term came into use in European geopolitical discourse in the 19th century,...

. In August 1883, he served as a foreign secretary and counsellor for a special Korea
Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

n diplomatic mission to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. He also spent significant periods of time in Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, writing books on Japanese religion, psychology, and behavior. His texts are filled with observations and academic discussions of various aspects of Japanese life, including language, religious practices, economics, travel in Japan, and the development of personality. Books by Percival Lowell on the Orient include Chosön: The Land of the Morning Calm (1886, Boston), Noto: An Unexplored Corner of Japan (1891) and Occult Japan, or the Way of the Gods (1894); the latter from his third and final trip to the region. The most popular of Lowell's books on the Orient, The Soul of the Far East, (1888) contains an early synthesis of some of his ideas, that in essence, postulated that human progress is a function of the qualities of individuality and imagination.

He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 1892. Beginning in the winter of 1893-94, using his wealth and influence, Lowell dedicated himself to the study of astronomy, founding the observatory which bears his name. For the last 23 years of his life astronomy, Lowell Observatory, and his and others' work at his observatory were the focal points of his life. He lived to be 61 years of age.

World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 very much saddened Lowell, a dedicated pacifist. This, along with some setbacks in his astronomical work (described below), undermined his health and contributed to his death from a stroke on November 12, 1916.

Another of his books is The Eve of the French Revolution (1892). Lowell is buried on Mars Hill near his observatory.

Astronomy career


Lowell became determined to study Mars and astronomy as a full-time career after reading Camille Flammarion
Camille Flammarion
Nicolas Camille Flammarion was a French astronomer and author. He was a prolific author of more than fifty titles, including popular science works about astronomy, several notable early science fiction novels, and several works about Spiritism and related topics. He also published the magazine...

's La planète Mars. He was particularly interested in the canals of Mars, as drawn by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli
Giovanni Schiaparelli
Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli was an Italian astronomer and science historian. He studied at the University of Turin and Berlin Observatory. In 1859-1860 he worked in Pulkovo Observatory and then worked for over forty years at Brera Observatory...

, who was director of the Milan Observatory.

In 1894 Lowell chose Flagstaff, Arizona Territory
Flagstaff, Arizona
Flagstaff is a city located in northern Arizona, in the southwestern United States. In 2010, the city's population was 65,870. The population of the Metropolitan Statistical Area was at 134,421 in 2010. It is the county seat of Coconino County...

 as the home of his new observatory. At an altitude of over 2100 meters (7000 feet), with few cloudy nights, and far from city lights, Flagstaff was an excellent site for astronomical observations. This marked the first time an observatory had been deliberately located in a remote, elevated place for optimal seeing.


For the next fifteen years he studied Mars extensively, and made intricate drawings of the surface markings as he perceived them. Lowell published his views in three books: Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908). With these writings, Lowell more than anyone else popularized the long-held belief that these markings showed that Mars sustained intelligent life forms.

His works include a detailed description of what he termed the 'non-natural features' of the planet's surface, including especially a full account of the 'canals,' single and double; the 'oases,' as he termed the dark spots at their intersections; and the varying visibility of both, depending partly on the Martian seasons. He theorized that an advanced but desperate culture had built the canals to tap Mars' polar ice caps, the last source of water on an inexorably drying planet.

While this idea excited the public, the astronomical community was skeptical. Many astronomers could not see these markings, and few believed that they were as extensive as Lowell claimed. As a result, Lowell and his observatory were largely ostracized. Although the consensus was that some actual features did exist which would account for these markings, in 1909 the sixty-inch Mount Wilson Observatory telescope in Southern California allowed closer observation of the structures Lowell had interpreted as canals, and revealed irregular geological features, probably the result of natural erosion.


The existence of canal-like features would not be definitively disproved until Mariner 4
Mariner 4
Mariner 4 was the fourth in a series of spacecraft, launched on November 28, 1964, intended for planetary exploration in a flyby mode and performed the first successful flyby of the planet Mars, returning the first pictures of the Martian surface...

 took the first close-up pictures of Mars in 1965, and Mariner 9
Mariner 9
Mariner 9 was a NASA space orbiter that helped in the exploration of Mars and was part of the Mariner program. Mariner 9 was launched toward Mars on May 30, 1971 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and reached the planet on November 13 of the same year, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit...

 orbited and mapped the planet in 1972. Today, the surface markings taken to be canals are regarded as an optical illusion.

Although Lowell was better known for his observations of Mars, he also drew maps of the planet Venus
Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

. Lowell observed spoke-like features and a central dark spot, yet it is now known that Venus' atmosphere is opaque. In an article published in Sky and Telescope in July 2003, it was suggested that in fact Lowell was observing an image of the blood vessels in his own eye.

Pluto


Lowell's greatest contribution to planetary studies came during the last decade of his life, which he devoted to the search for Planet X
Planet X
Following the discovery of the planet Neptune in 1846, there was considerable speculation that another planet might exist beyond its orbit. The search began in the mid-19th century but culminated at the start of the 20th with Percival Lowell's quest for Planet X...

, a hypothetical planet beyond Neptune. Lowell believed that the planets Uranus
Uranus
Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. It has the third-largest planetary radius and fourth-largest planetary mass in the Solar System. It is named after the ancient Greek deity of the sky Uranus , the father of Cronus and grandfather of Zeus...

 and Neptune
Neptune
Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System. Named for the Roman god of the sea, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter and the third largest by mass. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and is slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times...

 were displaced from their predicted positions by the gravity of the unseen Planet X. Lowell started a search program in 1906 using a camera 5 inches (12.7 cm) in aperture. The small field of view of the 42 inches (106.7 cm) reflecting telescope rendered the instrument impractical for searching. From 1914 to 1916, a 9 inches (22.9 cm) telescope on loan from Sproul Observatory
Sproul Observatory
Sproul Observatory is an astronomical observatory owned and operated by Swarthmore College. It is located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, United States, and is named after William Cameron Sproul, the 27th Governor of Pennsylvania, who graduated from Swarthmore in 1891.-Tours:An open house is offered...

 was used to search for Planet X. Although Lowell did not discover Pluto, Lowell Observatory (690) did photograph Pluto in March and April 1915.

In 1930 Clyde Tombaugh
Clyde Tombaugh
Clyde William Tombaugh was an American astronomer. Although he is best known for discovering the dwarf planet Pluto in 1930, the first object to be discovered in what would later be identified as the Kuiper Belt, Tombaugh also discovered many asteroids; he also called for serious scientific...

, working at the Lowell Observatory
Lowell Observatory
Lowell Observatory is an astronomical observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell Observatory was established in 1894, placing it among the oldest observatories in the United States, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965....

, discovered Pluto
Pluto
Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun...

 near the location expected for Planet X. Partly in recognition of Lowell's efforts, a stylized P-L monogram (
)— (the first two letters of the new planet's name and also Lowell's initials), was chosen as Pluto's astronomical symbol. However, it would subsequently emerge that the Planet X theory was mistaken.

Pluto's mass could not be determined until 1978, when a satellite came close enough for observation. This confirmed what had been increasingly suspected: Pluto's gravitational influence on Uranus and Neptune is negligible, certainly not nearly enough to account for the discrepancies in their orbits. In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet
Dwarf planet
A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union , is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be spherical as a result of its own gravity but has not cleared its neighboring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite...

 by the International Astronomical Union
International Astronomical Union
The International Astronomical Union IAU is a collection of professional astronomers, at the Ph.D. level and beyond, active in professional research and education in astronomy...

.

In addition, it is now known that the discrepancies between the predicted and observed positions of Uranus and Neptune were not caused by the gravity of an unknown planet. Rather, they were due to an erroneous value for the mass of Neptune. Voyager 2
Voyager 2
The Voyager 2 spacecraft is a 722-kilogram space probe launched by NASA on August 20, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and eventually interstellar space...

's 1989 encounter with Neptune yielded a more precise value of its mass, and the discrepancies disappear when using this value.

Legacy



Although Lowell's theories of the Martian canals, of surface features on Venus, and of Planet X are now discredited, his practice of building observatories at the position where they would best function has been adopted as a principle. He also established the program and setting which made the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh
Clyde Tombaugh
Clyde William Tombaugh was an American astronomer. Although he is best known for discovering the dwarf planet Pluto in 1930, the first object to be discovered in what would later be identified as the Kuiper Belt, Tombaugh also discovered many asteroids; he also called for serious scientific...

 possible. Craters on the Moon
Lowell (lunar crater)
Lowell is a lunar impact crater that lies just beyond the western limb of the Moon. It is embedded within the northwestern part of the Montes Rook mountain ring of the Mare Orientale impact basin...

 and on Mars have been named after him. Lowell has been described by other planetary scientists as "the most influential popularizer of planetary science in America before Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books...

."

While eventually disproved, Lowell's vision of the Martian canals as an artifact of an ancient civilization making a desperate last effort to survive, had an enormous influence on the development of Science Fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 - starting with H.G. Wells' enormously influential "The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds is an 1898 science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells.The War of the Worlds may also refer to:- Radio broadcasts :* The War of the Worlds , the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles...

" which made the logical further inference that creatures from a dying planet might seek to invade Earth.

The image of the dying Mars and its ancient culture was retained, in numerous versions and variations, in most SF works depicting Mars in the first half of the Twentieth Century (see Mars in fiction
Mars in fiction
Fictional representations of Mars have been popular for over a century. Interest in Mars has been stimulated by the planet's dramatic red color, by early scientific speculations that its surface conditions might be capable of supporting life, and by the possibility that Mars could be colonized by...

). Also when proven to be factually mistaken, the vision of Mars derived from his theories remains enshrined in works which remain in print and widely read as classics of Science Fiction.

See also


  • Lowell Observatory
    Lowell Observatory
    Lowell Observatory is an astronomical observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell Observatory was established in 1894, placing it among the oldest observatories in the United States, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965....

  • Life on Mars
    Life on Mars
    Scientists have long speculated about the possibility of life on Mars owing to the planet's proximity and similarity to Earth. Fictional Martians have been a recurring feature of popular entertainment of the 20th and 21st centuries, but it remains an open question whether life currently exists on...

  • Noto Peninsula
    Noto Peninsula
    thumb|right|240px|Landsat image with high-resolution data from Space Shuttle.Noto Peninsula is a peninsula that projects north into the Sea of Japan from the coast of Ishikawa prefecture in central Honshū, the main island of Japan...

  • Pluto
    Pluto
    Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun...


Publication

  • Percival Lowell - Collected Writings on Japan and Asia, including Letters to Amy Lowell and Lafcadio Hearn, 5 vols., Tokyo: Edition Synapse. ISBN 978-4-901481-48-9 www.aplink.co.jp/synapse/4-901481-48-7.htm

External links