(WATCH) Lowell Observatory


America recently landed on the moon again for the first time in over a half century. But the American fascination with space goes back much further. While in Arizona, Scott Thuman stopped by the Lowell Observatory, one of the country’s oldest gateways to the universe.

The following is a transcript of a report from “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.

From the top of a mesa overlooking the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, it’s obvious the night sky is different. On the horizon, no blinking lights of a fast food chain, no searchlights drawing attention to an auto dealership.

The sky here is dark, making what’s above the main attraction.

Amanda Bosh: When we’re lucky enough to have a comet coming by, you can see the comet sometimes with the naked eye.

Amanda Bosh is a planetary scientist and the chief operating officer of Lowell Observatory.

Bosh: The reason Lowell Observatory is even here in the first place is because Percival Lowell was very interested in Mars. This was 1894, and so Lowell sent out a group of people to see how good an image can you get at this site or that site. So the survey came here. It was a good site. The town said, you could have that hill over there.

By 1896, he was scouring the heavens with this large telescope still in use today.

Bosh: He was looking for evidence of Martians. There had been some indication of these canals. If it were to be true, then it would be indicative of Martians creating a canal system on their planet to transport water so they could survive.

Scott: Makes you laugh a little.

Though Lowell never found them, another astronomer at the observatory made a major discovery.

Clyde Tombaugh, a self-taught astronomer, discovered Earth’s most distant planet.

On February 18, 1930, Tombaugh found Pluto, becoming the first and only American to discover a planet in our solar system.

A giant find that eventually led to a giant downgrade.

Scott: As we all know, Pluto got demoted.

Bosh: Pluto got demoted because, at the time, there were some other potentially large bodies that were discovered further away than Pluto. And so, the question was, do those get planet status as well? Should we have nine planets or 15 planets or eight planets?

Regardless of the number, tourists flock here for a glimpse at what’s out there.

Ten-year-old Andrew is visiting from New York and eager to share his big revelation at Lowell.

Andrew: I never knew that the guy who discovered Pluto didn’t go to college yet. He was 24, and he was the guy who discovered Pluto. It’s just, people think that old people are the guys who discover everything. He’s 24. My sister’s almost 24, and she hasn’t done anything yet.

But the future, well, that is boundless. And here, both amateurs and professionals say the still unseen is what will keep them searching for more.

For Full Measure, I’m Scott Thuman in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Watch video here.

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