Percival Lawrence Lowell (March 13, 1855–November 12, 1916) was a businessman, author, mathematician, and astronomer who fueled speculation that there were canals on Mars, founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and formed the beginning of the effort that led to the discovery of Pluto 14 years after his death. The choice of the name Pluto and its symbol were partly influenced by his initials PL.
Percival Lowell, a descendant of the Boston Lowell family, was the brother of A. Lawrence, president of Harvard University, and Amy, an imagist poet, critic, and publisher.
Percival graduated from the Noble and Greenough School in 1872 and Harvard University in 1876 with distinction in mathematics. At his college graduation, he gave a speech, considered very advanced for its time, on the "Nebular Hypothesis." He was later awarded honorary degrees from Amherst College and Clark University.
In the 1880s, Lowell traveled extensively in the Far East. In August 1883, he served as a foreign secretary and counsellor for a special Korean diplomatic mission to the United States. He also spent significant periods of time in Japan, writing books on Japanese religion, psychology, and behavior. His texts are filled with observations and academic discussions of various aspects of Japanese life, including language, religious practices, economics, travel in Japan, and the development of personality. Books by Percival Lowell on the Orient include Noto (1891) and Occult Japan (1894); the latter from his third and final trip to the region. The most popular of Lowell's books on the Orient, The Soul of the Far East, (1888) contains an early synthesis of some of his ideas, that in essence, postulated that human progress is a function of the qualities of individuality and imagination.
Beginning in the winter of 1893-94, using his wealth and influence, Lowell dedicated himself to the study of astronomy, founding the observatory which bears his name. For the last 23 years of his life astronomy, Lowell Observatory, and his and others' work at his observatory were the focal points of his life. He lived to be 61 years of age.
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