The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Lowell, Percival

The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Lowell, Percival

LOWELL, Percival, astronomer, b. in Boston, Mass., 13 March, 1855; d. at Flagstaff, Ariz., 12 Nov., 1916, son of Augustus and Katherine Bigelow (Lawrence) Lowell. His father was vice-president of the American Academy and trustee of the Lowell Institute of Boston, and his maternal grandfather was Abbott Lawrence, U. S. minister to England (1849-52). He was a cousin of James Russell Lowell, a brother of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University, and a descendant of Col. Timothy Bigelow, of Worcester, a distinguished Revolutionary soldier. He received his early education in private schools in Boston and was graduated at Harvard College in 1876. In 1883 he helped to form the Mathematical and Physical Club of Boston, and in the same year he went to Japan, where he continued to reside more or less regularly until 1893. While in Japan he was appointed secretary and counselor of the Korean Special Mission to the United States, and he spent the winter of 1883-84 in the imperial city of Seoul on the invitation of the Emperor of Korea. During his years in the Far East he made a close study of the character, customs, and traditions of the people, and wrote a number of books which have contributed materially to our knowledge of the Orient. After 1893 he devoted himself chiefly to the science of astronomy. He established the Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff, Ariz., in 1894; and in 1900 he undertook an eclipse expedition to Tripoli. In 1902 he was appointed non-resident professor of astronomy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is known especially for his studies of the planet Mars. He sent an expedition to the Andes to photograph Mars in 1907, and at his observatory at Flagstaff, in the Arizona desert, he made careful studies of the planet, which have resulted in a number of important discoveries. Professor Lowell is the chief exponent of the theory of the Martian canals, and advanced many arguments to prove the existence of an advanced state of civilization on that planet. He followed Schiaparelli in the statement that there were 104 canals on Mars, but in 1906 announced that he had discovered 550 such canals and that they were the work of organic life. In 1908 he announced the discovery of water vapor on the planet and in 1910 reported a new canal, a thousand miles long. In the spring of 1910 Dr. Lowell went to England and gave a series of lectures on his discoveries before the Royal Institute of London and the Association Astronomique of Paris. His theories were widely discussed, but the reception of them abroad was cold. He returned to this country after six weeks and thereafter spent most of the time at the Flagstaff Observatory. For his researches on Mars he received the Jannsen gold medal of the French Astronomical Society, and a gold medal from the Sociedad Astronomica de Mexico. He also made extensive observations and announced important discoveries on the planets Mercury, Venus, and Saturn. His published writings include, “Choson” (1885); “The Soul of the Far East” (1886); “Noto” (1891); “Occult Japan” (1894); “Mars” (1895); “Annals of the Lowell Observatory” (2 vols., 1898, 1900); “The Solar System” (1903); “Annals of the Lowell Observatory” (Vol. III, 1905); “Mars and Its Canals” (1906); “Mars as the Abode of Life” (1908); “The Evolution of Worlds” (1909). Professor Lowell was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; a member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the American Philosophical Society, the Société Astronomique de France, and the Astronomische Gesellschaft; an honorary member of the Sociedad Astronomica de Mexico, and a member of the National and American Geographical Societies. The honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by Amherst College in 1907 and by Clark University in 1909. He was married 10 June, 1908, to Constance Savage Keith, of Boston.