A visit to Lowell Observatory with Dr. Brian May

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, October 5, 2018

Brian May poses with David Eicher and Lowell Observatory staff members after a night of observing with the 24-inch Clark refractor. DAVID J. EICHER

Writing projects have been consuming me over the past few weeks — a special issue in March upcoming, and many featured Apollo stories you will see shortly. I am FINALLY able to catch up on a little blogging. Here goes:

Last month I had the distinct pleasure of taking my friend Brian May, astronomer and founding member and guitarist of Queen, to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Discovering that I would be in the area, and so would he, we decided to rendezvous for a several-day-long excursion to visit some astronomical sites. Queen were busy playing a residency in Las Vegas, but Brian had a several-day window for astronomy and relaxation. So Michael Bakich and I traveled to Vegas and saw the magnificent Queen concert on September 7th. A day later, poof — we were in Arizona. 

On one night we had the chance to observe Mars, Uranus, and a variety of star clusters and planetary nebulae — M15, the Dumbbell Nebula, the Ring Nebula, and others — ably led by our telescope operators and by one of the world’s expert deep-sky observers, old friend Brian Skiff. Astronomer Gerard van Belle also joined us, as well as observatory staff members Samantha Gorney and Stephen Riggs. We were also joined by Astronomy’s expert travel guru from TravelQuest, Cody Carter.  

We also thoroughly explored Lowell and its history, led by Kevin Schindler, the observatory’s resident historian. We pulled the Pluto “B Plate” from its secure hiding place, standing mesmerized over one of the two glass plates on which Pluto was discovered. We explored the intricacies of the Pluto Telescope, with which Clyde Tombaugh took the plates on which he discovered Pluto. We saw all manner of treasures in the observatory archives, including my favorite — the Slipher spectrograph, with which V.M. Slipher discovered the expansion of the universe and the interstellar medium. 

And the fun went on and on. Here is a sampling of images shot during our visit. I’ll share some more from this trip as soon as I get a few more words down on paper! 

Brian May and Dave Eicher pose with Kevin Schindler, Samantha Gorney, Stephen Riggs, and Cody Carter. DAVID J. EICHER

Brian May examines the Pluto “B Plate,” one of two glass plates on which Pluto was discovered in 1930. DAVID J. EICHER

Dr. Brian May observing Mars through the historic 24-inch Clark refractor. DAVID J. EICHER

Dr. Brian May poses with the mighty 24-inch Clark refractor after a night’s observing. DAVID J. EICHER

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