Throughout most of human history, it was believed that the Milky Way was the only solar system in the universe. However, with improvements in telescope technology, we can now see that the Milky Way is just one out of over one hundred billion galaxies.
This is the story of the Steward Observatory, in Tucson, Arizona. Steward began as one building with a telescope, but has since expanded into an institution of many telescopes, laboratories, and people.
The roots of modern astronomy in Arizona stretch back 150 years to a chance encounter between two New Englanders: Percival Lowell, and Andrew Ellicott Douglass. Flagstaff is where the first major observatory in the then Arizona territory was built. Conventional wisdom in the early 20th century held that there was a civilization on Mars. Douglass drew what he saw on Mars, and used his sketches to create his own imaginative drawings of Mars. Lowell’s writings inspired H.G. Wells to write The War of the Worlds. After being fired over a disagreement, Douglass took a job at the University of Arizona, teaching geography and physics. Douglass wanted to build an observatory which rivaled Lowell’s in Flagstaff. Douglass had to rely on private donors to build his observatory. Upon its completion, Douglass opened the Steward observatory to the general public, so he could share his discoveries.