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Percival Lowell

Percival Lowell (March 13, 1855 - November 13, 1916) was a wealthy amateur astronomer who was convinced that there were canals on Mars, and was the founder of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Percival Lowell came from a distinguished Boston family. In addition to his own accomplishments his younger brother Abbot was president of Harvard University, and his sister Amy was a well-known Imagist poet and critic.

Percival Lowell graduated from Harvard in 1876 with distinction in mathematics, and traveled extensively through the Far East before deciding to study Mars and astronomy as a full-time career. He was particularly interested in the "canals" of Mars, as drawn by Giovanni Schiaparelli, who was director of the Milan Observatory and an esteemed Italian astronomer.

In 1894 he moved to Flagstaff, Arizona. At an altitude of over 7000 feet, and with few cloudy nights, it was an excellent site for astronomical observations. For the next fifteen years he studied Mars extensively, and drew intricate drawing 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).

Lowell's greatest contribution to planetary studies came during the last 8 years of his life, which he devoted to the search for Planet X, which was the designation for a planet beyond Neptune. The search continued for a number of years after his death at Flagstaff in 1916; the new planet, named Pluto, was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. The symbol for the planet is a stylized "PL", chosen in part to honor Lowell.

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