FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The historic Nissan 350Z that Dr. Alan Stern drove while leading the New Horizons mission to Pluto will be auctioned this month. The sale will benefit Lowell Observatory, the place where Pluto was discovered, with proceeds going to support Lowell’s mission of scientific research and education. Bids will be accepted from December 15-24 on eBay, and the winner will not only enjoy the car, but also a dinner with Stern.
Stern bought the car in 2006, the year New Horizons was launched. A red 2006 Nissan 350Z Coupe, it still has the bumper sticker (which reads “My other vehicle is on its way to Pluto”) that his daughter put on the back window when he bought it. This was the only vehicle Stern owned and drove throughout the duration of the New Horizons flight to Pluto, from launch to its arrival at that icy world in 2015. It is a two-door model with red exterior and carbon interior.
The car has just over 77,000 miles on it, which, as Stern points out, is almost 10 times fewer miles than New Horizons clocked on its first day of flight. A November 9, 2016 appraisal states the vehicle is in excellent shape and has a life expectancy of 300,000 miles.
Stern is also one of the world’s leading experts on Pluto, which was discovered at Lowell Observatory in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh in an effort that culminated a search begun by Observatory founder Percival Lowell in 1905. As principal investigator of New Horizons, Stern spearheaded the underdog efforts not only to get the mission approved by NASA in the first place, but to see its successful—and under budget—voyage to Pluto. He said, “It was Percival Lowell’s perseverance and dedication that resulted in the discovery of Pluto and, ultimately, resulted in the flight of New Horizons to explore this distant, small planet. New Horizons was, and is, the best aspect of my career so far, so I wanted to donate this car to Lowell Observatory as a fundraising vehicle to recognize the fact that New Horizons could not have happened without the historic and pioneering work that took place at Lowell Observatory early in the last century”.
Lowell director Jeff Hall said, “It’s been a real pleasure working with Alan over the past few years leading up to and past the Pluto flyby. He’s been tremendously supportive of Lowell, and his donation of his car for us to auction is a sterling example of this. We’re thrilled by this gesture, and we look forward to meeting the lucky winner.”
The winner will not only acquire a novel memento of the man whom Time magazine named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in both 2007 and 2016, but will also support Lowell Observatory’s expansion into a new era of groundbreaking research and informal science education. The Observatory’s Discovery Channel Telescope is operating at full capacity, allowing astronomers at Lowell and its partner organizations to pursue projects ranging from the search for Earth-like planets to unraveling the evolutionary history of stars and galaxies. Meanwhile, public interest in the Observatory and its educational programs has skyrocketed, with record numbers of people visiting Lowell for the second consecutive year.
The auction runs from 1:00 a.m. PST on December 15 through 11:59 p.m. on December 24. A link to the eBay auction site is available during that time at lowell.edu/own-alans-car/.
About Lowell Observatory. Lowell Observatory is a private, non-profit research institution founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. The Observatory has been the site of many important discoveries including the detection of the large recessional velocities (redshift) of galaxies by Vesto Slipher in 1912-1914 (a result that led to the realization the universe is expanding), and the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Today, Lowell’s 14 astronomers use ground-based telescopes around the world, telescopes in space, and NASA planetary spacecraft to conduct research in astronomy and planetary science. The Observatory welcomes about 95,000 visitors yearly to its Mars Hill campus in Flagstaff, AZ for a variety of tours, telescope viewing, and special programs. The Observatory currently operates four research telescopes at its Anderson Mesa dark sky site east of Flagstaff and the 4.3-meter Discovery Channel Telescope near Happy Jack, Arizona.