Clyde Tombaugh


Clyde Tombaugh Wow!

Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto years before he ever attended college!

Clyde Tombaugh was born in 1906 to an Illinois farm family. As a boy he developed an interest in stargazing that was encouraged by both his father and his uncle. The first telescope Clyde ever looked through belonged to his uncle. The first telescope he ever owned was bought from Sears. By 1925, Clyde was dissatisfied with his store bought telescope and decided to build one for himself. Clyde's father took a second job to pay for the materials needed to build it. The telescope Clyde built in 1925 was only the first of more than thirty telescopes he was to build over his lifetime.

In 1928 Clyde completed the construction of a very accurate 23-centimeter reflector. The mount for this telescope was built from part of the crankshaft from a 1910 Buick and discarded parts from a cream separator! Nevertheless, it was with this telescope that Clyde made the observations responsible for a job offer from the Lowell Observatory. Clyde made very detailed drawings of his telescopic observations of Jupiter and Mars. He sent the drawings to astronomers at the Lowell Observatory asking for their comments and suggestions. What he received instead was an offer to come to Lowell to work as a junior astronomer. Clyde accepted the job and joined the search for Percival Lowell's "Planet X", a planet beyond Neptune. Clyde Tombaugh's job was to photograph one small piece of the night sky at a time. He then had to carefully examine and compare the photos in an effort to detect an unidentified moving point of light that might be a planet. Clyde Tombaugh photographed 65% of the sky and spent thousands of hours examining photographs of the night sky. After ten months of very hard work, sometimes working through the night in an unheated dome, Clyde Tombaugh discovered an object he named Pluto. For many years, Pluto was considered to be the ninth planet in our solar system. However, as astronomers learned more about the planets and also about a new group of objects known as the Kuiper Belt Objects, it became clear that Pluto was more like the objects in that belt than the other eight planets. In August 2006, Pluto was re-classified as a dwarf planet.

Clyde Tombaugh died at the age of ninety on January 17, 1997.

A Question

Can you name the three people credited with the discovery of a planet in our solar system? They are all familiar names to StarChild.

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