Photo: The 24″ Clark refractor (Credit: Raymond Dake Photography)
Of the many telescopes found on Lowell Observatory’s central Flagstaff campus, the most prolific and recognizable is the Clark Refractor. Nestled among ponderosa pines, the Clark Dome is the first thing you see as you embark on the winding road that leads up to Mars Hill. In the observatory’s earliest days, Percival Lowell himself used the Clark to study the surface of Mars, searching for signs of intelligent life. His theories on the subject fostered massive public interest in astronomy and sparked the imaginations of science fiction writers for generations to come. Nearly a century later, the Clark would be used by a team of scientists and artists to create painstakingly detailed maps of the Moon’s surface for use on the Apollo moon mission.
From Bicycles to Telescope Domes
In 1895, Percival Lowell commissioned Alvin Clark and Sons to build him a 24-inch refracting telescope for $20,000—the modern equivalent of $613,802.38. The Clark was too large for its original dome, so Lowell hired Flagstaff local Godfrey Sykes of Sykes Brothers Bicycle Repair Shop to build a new one. To task a bicycle repairman with the building of a telescope dome ...