Biographies

Clyde Tombaugh and the discovery of Pluto

Clyde Tombaugh and the discovery of Pluto


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Clyde Tombaugh He was the astronomer who discovered the dwarf planet Pluto in 1930, using a flickering microscope with which he compared photographs of the sky taken several days apart.

Clyde William Tombaugh was born on February 4, 1906 in LaSalle, near Streator, Illinois, United States. During his adolescence he began to be interested in astronomy.

His first telescope was a 2.5-inch warehouse and, later, he built a 9-inch one, in 1928, using machinery waste. With this telescope he made meticulous observations of Jupiter and Mars, and sent some of them to the Lowell Observatory.

This work earned him to be hired by the observatory as an amateur astronomer. In 1929 he began working as junior astronomer using a 13 inch camera. The work entrusted to him was the search for planet X, which had been undertaken before by Percival Lowell.

Clyde took photographs of portions of the sky every 5 or 6 days. These were reviewed by the scintillation method, determining differences in the positions of the celestial objects.

On the nights of January 23-29, 1930, Tombaugh took photographs of the geminorum delta region.

On February 18, the comparison began, finding a change in the position of an object of magnitude 17, whose behavior reflected what was predicted for a trans-Neptunian planet.

This discovery was confirmed by other observations and the announcement was given to the world on March 13, 1930. This new object was given the name of Pluto, the God of hell in Greek mythology, but it is believed that it is also an undercover tribute to Percival Lowell.

After discovering Pluto, Tombaugh continued to study the sky for thirteen years, discovering 6 star clusters, two comets, hundreds of asteroids, several dozen galaxy clusters and a supercluster. In 1932 he discovered a Nova in the constellation of the Crow (TV Corvi).

In 1945 he was fired from the Lowell Observatory for financial reasons. He left for New Mexico and, in 1946, became head of optical measures in the ballistic research laboratory. In 1955 he started the planetary group at the State University of New Mexico.

Clyde Tombaugh built the telescope of the turtle mountains university observatory, with which he began working in 1967. He was responsible for the astronomy program of the observatory, making it an independent program in 1970.

He remained active long after his retirement and, when he was asked for his first telescope for the Smithsonian museum, replied that he was still using it. Clyde Tombaugh died on January 17, 1997 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at 90 years of age.

In 2006, NASA deposited a small amount of its ashes in the New Horizons probe, which closely watched the planet Pluto for the first time in history on July 14, 2015.

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