DANIEL Q. POSEN

I want to write about Daniel Q. Posen – and this beauty:

It’s the main telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.    It’s a real beauty.    It was built in 1896 and used by Percival Lowell throughout his esteemed career as an astronomer.  It was also the telescope which “discovered” Pluto and which led to the formulation of the equations which describe the theory of the Expanding Universe.  

The observatory is perched high over the city of Flagstaff:

Son and I were fortunate enough to arrive in Flagstaff about 7:30 in the evening.   His GPS took us straight to Mars Hill, the wonderfully appropriate address of the Lowell Observatory.       Oh – that’s the lights of Flagstaff about 1,500 feet below us.   We’re as close as we wanted to get at the pitch dark edge of the mountain with 45 m.p.h. winds gusting at us – and about 35 degrees!

We had arrived on the night of the eclipse of the full moon.  

Total excitement!   

There was a good museum and gift store which prepared us for going inside the observatory itself.    And then, with a small (and very cold) group of people,  our guide took us in.    We lined up in a circle around the Telescope under the fragrance of the mountain pine wood:

She had “someone from the audience” go down into the pit and work the levers which opened and closed the dome above as she explained how the telescope was built and how they – in 1896 – had to invent their way to a method of positioning the dome just right so that the telescope would be viewing the part of the sky that was to be examined.     

Those circles you see at the bottom go all the way around the dome.    They finally solved the problem of positioning the dome by making it move on a series of truck tires –  they used the tires from 1954 Ford pick-up trucks!    And, yes, we asked:   Occasionally they have to go in and change a flat tire.   Really “high tech” mechanism!

When the formal tour was over, Son and I explored yet another museum where a semi-eager grad student was willing to give us a private and rather late showing on his planetarium:

He was sitting at his brightly colored control panels and that big ball, looking like the inside of a giant umbrella was displaying the universe for us as he talked and we asked numerous questions.   The man took us from earth-and-moon out to the whole solar system and out to about 10 AUs away from our sun and out further and further until we could see our whole Milky Way galaxy and further until our galaxy appeared to be just a shining dot among other dots that formed long strings and possibly the surface of “bubbles”   and on and on to the limits of what astronomers think they can know….

Why the title of this post:    Daniel Q.Posen?     A long time go when television was young (and not the “wasteland”  that Vance Packard observed)  Chicago developed an educational TV station called WTTW – Window To The World.   It  really was my window to the world.   

As a young child my Dad and I watched their weekly astronomy show hosted by Daniel Q. Posen and featuring the Lowell Observatory and discoveries of Percival Lowell.  We had Lowell’s books in our house.     I read his words and his diagrams and saw the matching photos in these books.

And now, a few weeks ago,  I was standing in his own “work space”!    And viewing his very own handwriting:

Sorry, the lighting was terrible, but that is one of his sketch books and those are his sketches of the patterns he saw on the surface of Mars through the very telescope we had just seen.

I was a child again, looking at the whole universe through the eyes of Percival Lowell, guided by the distinctive voice of Daniel Q. Posen – but this time I was standing in the very places where Percival Lowell had walked.

Hero worship?   Probably.  

He is buried, overlooking Flagstaff, inside a tiny mausoleum built to look like a miniature observatory.   

He is so “not dead.”   He lives on in this observatory and in his books and drawings, and certainly in my imagination where as a child I experienced all the good things that a knowledge of space can give us.

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3 Comments on “DANIEL Q. POSEN”

  1. John Nelson Says:

    I remember this program as well…Daniel Q Posen was a “window to the world”


  2. […] At least they’re calling Pluto a planet again.   Percival Lowell would be pleased.  (My visit to his observatory,  here.) […]


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