12Feb2017

Clyde Tombaugh – Discoverer Of Pluto

Clyde Tombaugh

Clyde Tombaugh at his blink comparator in 1930 looking for Pluto

Pluto, once believed to be the ninth planet, is discovered at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, by astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh.Pluto was appropriately given the Roman name for the god of the underworld in Greek mythology.

Clyde’s Early life and family

When Clyde Tombaugh built his first telescope at 20, he couldn’t have known it was setting him forward on a path that would eventually lead to the discovery of the first known dwarf planet, Pluto.  Let’s take a look at the life of this amazing man. Clyde William Tombaugh was born on near Streator, Ill., on Feb. 4, 1906. His family purchased a farm near Burdett, Kan., while he was still young, where a hailstorm ruined his family’s crops and put an end to his hopes to attend college at the time.

In 1928, the amateur astronomer was offered a job at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, where he discovered Pluto. In 1934, he married Patricia Edson. They had two children, Annette and Alden. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree in astronomy from the University of Kansas, working at the observatory during the summers.

Clyde Tombaugh, the American astronomer who discovered Pluto, the ninth planet in our Solar System.

Tombaugh remained at Lowell Observatory until the advent of World War II, when he was called into service teaching navigation to the U.S. Navy at Arizona State College. After the war concluded, he worked at the ballistics research laboratory atWhite Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. From 1955 until he retired in 1973, he taught at New Mexico State University.

Tombaugh passed away at his home in Las Cruces, N.M., on Jan. 17, 1997.

An avid amateur astronomer

Unimpressed with store-bought telescopes, Tombaugh constructed his first telescope at the age of 20, grinding the mirrors himself. Over the course of his life, he would build more than 30 telescopes.

In 1928, he put together a 23-centimeter reflector out of the crankshaft of a 1910 Buick and parts from a cream separator. Using this telescope, young Clyde made detailed observations of Jupiter and Mars, which he sent to Lowell Observatory in hopes of garnering feedback from professional astronomers.
Instead of receiving constructive criticism, Tombaugh was instead offered a position at the observatory. The staff had been searching for an amateur astronomer to operate their new photographic telescope in search of, among other things, the mysterious Planet X.

Not long after its discovery in 1781, the new planetUranus was found to have strange movements that could only be attributed to another body. Neptune’s discovery in 1846 somewhat accounted for the orbit, but there were still discrepancies that led scientists to conclude yet another planet existed.

Clyde in his later years

In 1894, businessman Percival Lowell built Lowell Observatory to study Mars. In 1905, he turned the telescope toward the search for the elusive Planet X, though he died before the new planet could be found.

When Tombaugh was hired in 1929, he joined the search for the missing planet. The telescope at the observatory was equipped with a camera that would take two photographs of the sky on different days. A device known as a blink compactor rapidly flipped back and forth between the two photographs. Stars and galaxies essentially remained unmoving in the images, but anything closer could be visually identified by its motion across the sky. Tombaugh spent approximately a week studying each pair of photographs, which contained over 150,000 stars, and sometimes nearly a million.

On Feb. 18, 1930, Tombaugh noticed movement across the field of a pair of images taken a month beforehand. After studying the object to confirm it, the staff of Lowell Observatory officially announced the discovery of a ninth planet on March 13.

With the discovery came the rights to name the new body, so the staff opened up a worldwide call for suggestions. Eleven-year old Venetia Burney of England suggested the name Pluto, because the dark, distant planet resembled the abode of the Greek god of the underworld.

Pluto endured as a planet for more than 70 years. As astronomical instruments became increasingly precise, however, other similar-sized objects were found beyond the orbit of Neptune. In 2006, almost a decade after Tombaugh’s death, the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet.

The New Horizons mission carries some of Tombaugh’s ashes on board as it travels to Pluto and beyond.

Although most famous for the discovery of the most controversial body in the solar system, Tombaugh also found a comet, hundreds of asteroids, and several galactic star clusters over the course of his career.

 

Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh UFO Sighting

Simulation image only for illustrative purposes

Clyde Tombaugh was the American astronomer who discovered the planet Pluto. On August 20, 1949, he observed a UFO that appeared as a geometrically arranged group of six-to-eight rectangles of light, window-like in appearance and yellowish-green in color, which moved from northwest to southeast over Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Clyde Tombaugh was the American astronomer who discovered the planet Pluto. On August 20, 1949, he observed a UFO that appeared as a geometrically arranged group of six-to-eight rectangles of light, window-like in appearance and yellowish-green in color, which moved from northwest to southeast over Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Tombaugh and UFOs 

Tombaugh was probably the pre-eminent astronomer to have reported seeing Unidentified Flying Objects. On August 20, 1949, Tombaugh saw several UFOs near Las Cruces, New Mexico. He described them as six to eight rectangular lights, stating “I doubt that the phenomenon was any terrestrial reflection, because… nothing of the kind has ever appeared before or since… I was so unprepared for such a strange sight that I was really petrified with astonishment.” A similar shocked response has been reported by many other who claim to have seen mysterious aerial objects. 

Tombaugh was also later to report having seen three of the mysterious Green Fireballs, which suddenly appeared over New Mexico in late 1948 and continued at least through the early 1950s. In 1956 Tombaugh had the following to say about his various sightings: 

“I have seen three objects in the last seven years which defied any explanation of known phenomenon, such as Venus, atmospheric optic, meteors or planes. I am a professional, highly skilled, professional astronomer. In addition I have seen three green fireballs which were unusual in behaviour from normal green fireballs…I think that several reputable scientists are being unscientific in refusing to entertain the possibility of extraterrestrial origin and nature.”

Clyde Tombaugh regularly reported these fascinating ‘Green Fireballs’

In 1949, Tombaugh had also told the Naval missile director at White Sands Missile Range, Commander Robert McLaughlin, that he had seen a bright flash on Mars in August 1941, which he now attributed to an atomic blast (mentioned May 12, 1949, in a letter from McLaughlin to Dr. James van Allen). Tombaugh also noted that the first atomic bomb tested in New Mexico would have lit up the dark side of the Earth like a neon sign and that Mars was coincidentally quite close at the time, the implication apparently being that the atomic test would have been visible from Mars. 

In June 1952, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer acting as a scientific consultant to the Air Force’s Project Blue Book UFO study, secretly conducted a survey of fellow astronomers on UFO sightings and attitudes while attending an astronomy convention. Tombaugh and four other astronomers told Hynek about their sightings, including Dr. Lincoln La Paz of the University of New Mexico. Tombaugh also told Hynek that his telescopes were at the Air Force’s disposal for taking photos of UFOs, if he was properly alerted.

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