Sparkle Schoolhouse
FIFTY Study Page: Arizona "Finding Planet X"

FIFTY Study Page: Arizona "Finding Planet X"

Wealthy businessman, mathematician, and author Percival Lowell dedicated the last years of his life and most of his personal riches on one mission: to find the mysterious “Planet X” — the supposed ninth planet in the solar system. His singular focus created the facility and calculations that would accomplish this goal, but it was the diligence and can-do practicality of a Kansas farm boy who would actually make Lowell’s dream come true.


  • Biographies of Percival Lowell and Clyde Tombaugh

  • History of Astronomy and the Lowell Observatory


  • Exploration of Flagstaff, Arizona and why it was chosen for the Observatory

  • Map of Tombaugh’s route from Kansas to Arizona

“Finding Planet X” Study Topics

  • Study of the Planets: shape, size, qualities, and when “discovered” by people. Compare these qualities with the Roman Gods after which they were named.
  • More in depth study of Pluto: how it was named and why it was de-classified to a “dwarf planet.”

Topics for Reflection

From a Child Development Perspective:

In this story, your child might learn that:

  • Sometimes we do not immediately reap the benefits or even see the results of our hard work, but this does not mean that it has gone unrecognized or is for naught. If we believe in ourselves, and if we believe in a cause, then we have no choice but to carry-on and do what is needed! This is what Percival Lowell did when he searched for Planet X even though it was not found in his lifetime. This is a story of perseverance.

  • Determination is what leads to success, not fame or wealth, or even necessarily formal schooling. Clyde Tombaugh had none of those, only the passion and the drive to become an astronomer and to ‘reach for the stars’. In the end it was this passion and determination that led him to do what even Lowell Percival did not achieve in his lifetime, even with his natural advantage. All Clyde needed was to follow his dreams and study the stars was a telescope, which he purchased by doing our jobs and using some of savings he had from his parents. He didn't even have the education that college could give him. He educated himself.

  • Even when we are given opportunity, it does not mean that the hard work is over. A door may open for us, but we are the ones to enter it.

    …neither Clyde nor the telescope disappointed. Just as he proved himself to be when studying astronomy textbooks and teaching himself optics and grinding lenses and digging a very deep hole, Clyde was tireless. The young man worked as many hours as he physically could figuring out and then employing the new 33 centimeter refracting telescope…

  • Even with all of our determination and careful planning, there is a dash of magic that one cannot deny when things work out almost without explanation. We absolutely can and should work hard and plan and try to make change--all of this is necessary and noteworthy. And still we need to leave room for the magic. Clyde sent his drawings to the Lowell Observatory asking for some advice, and yet he had no expectation that as a result, Roger Putnam would see such value in them and offer him a job!

  • Even children can make a difference in a world of grown-ups! There was a dash of magic as well in finding name of Planet X. The name, Pluto, honors not only the Roman God of the underworld, thereby referencing the distant, mysterious planet, but also it honors the man originally responsible for searching for planet X in the first place. And it was suggested by an 11-year-old, the age of a Sparkle child!

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About the Authors

David Sewell McCann

Story Spinner

David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.

Meredith Markow

Sparkle Schoolhouse Head of School

Meredith has been working with adults and children of all ages for the past 25 years as a Waldorf Teacher and Educational Consultant. She received a B.A. with a focus on child development and child psychology from the University of Michigan, in 1984, an M.A. Ed from Washington University in 1987, and her Waldorf Teaching Certificate from the Lehrerausbildung (Teacher Training) in Nurnberg, Germany in 1989. She was certified as a Living Inquiries Facilitator in 2014, and she completed her formal teaching certification with The Enneagram Institute in 2014. Her work in the classroom and with individuals and groups is designed to help people of all ages to drop self-limiting beliefs to live a more joyful and compassionate life.

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