From the March 2018 issue

Book highlights Pluto’s connection to Lowell Observatory

By | Published: March 2, 2018 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Flagstaff, AZ – Nearly every major Pluto-related discovery has ties to Flagstaff, Arizona, particularly Lowell Observatory. This has led people to call both the city and observatory the “Home of Pluto”. A new book published by The History Press, Pluto and Lowell Observatory, shares this captivating connection. It is set for release on March 10.

Percival Lowell began searching for a planet at his observatory in 1905, an effort that eventually culminated with Clyde Tombaugh’s 1930 discovery of Pluto. Ever since, area scientists have helped lead efforts to discover Pluto moons, develop surface maps, detect an atmosphere, and explore the world up-close with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.

Authors Kevin Schindler and Will Grundy tell the story of Pluto from postulation to exploration. They begin the book by sharing Percival Lowell’s early searches, which were fraught with intrigue and disappointment. Lowell went to his grave without discovering his planet, though his team of assistants unknowingly photographed Pluto a year before his death.

These early efforts set the stage for a later search carried out by Tombaugh, who made his grand discovery at the age of 24. This brought worldwide fame to Flagstaff and Lowell Observatory, which was flooded with suggestions about what to call the new world, as well as queries for scientific data.

Ensuing Pluto research culminated with New Horizons’ 2015 flyby of Pluto and its family of moons. With this, Pluto went from a dot on Tombaugh’s discovery images to a vibrant world that captured the imagination of people around the world. But nowhere does Pluto resonate more than in Flagstaff, where local artists created Pluto-themed pieces while guests at a local restaurant could order Pluto sushi rolls.

The story is both scientific and personal and connects the past with the present. To fully capture this narrative, Clyde Tombaugh’s children, Annette and Alden, wrote a foreword while New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern (also a member of Lowell’s advisory board) wrote an afterword. W. Lowell Putnam, sole trustee of Lowell Observatory and great grandnephew of Percival Lowell—wrote an introduction, while Lowell director Jeff Hall and astronomer Gerard van Belle contributed a discussion about Pluto’s planetary status.

Hall said, “Kevin Schindler and Will Grundy have written an entertaining and engrossing account of the discovery and study of Pluto, from Percival Lowell’s earliest attempt to find “Planet X” to the 2015 New Horizons flyby. It’s a significant addition to the literature about this archetype of the exciting new frontier of our solar system.”

All royalties from book sales will go to support Lowell’s mission of research and education.

Schindler is the historian at Lowell Observatory, where he has worked for the past two decades. He regularly writes astronomy and history articles for a variety of publications and contributes an astronomy column, “View from Mars Hill”, for the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper. Grundy, a planetary scientist, has also worked at Lowell for more than 20 years. He is the author of more than 100 scientific papers and was the surface composition team leader for the New Horizons mission to Pluto.

This press release originally appeared on