this page honors Clyde W. Tombaugh (1906-1997)

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More about Clyde Tombaugh:

Levy, David. Clyde Tombaugh, Discover of Planet Pluto. University of Arizona Press, copyright 1991.

Tombaugh, Clyde and Patrick Moore. Out of the Darkness, the Planet Pluto. Stackpole Books, copyright 1980.

The search for "Planet X" was begun by Percival Lowell, an American millionaire who founded a private observatory on Mars Hill, near Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell predicted where a trans-Neptunian planet might be located based on the orbital behavior of comets and the outer planets, and he made a preliminary sky survey in 1905-1907.

Lowell purchased a blink comparator to help with subsequent surveys. This device made it easier for observers to switch rapidly between two (or more) photographs of the same patch of the sky. If the photographic plates were aligned correctly, the stars remained stationary and moving objects could be isolated and examined.

In January 1929, Clyde Tombaugh joined the staff at Lowell Observatory and, within months, he was immersed in a new search for Planet X. On February 18, 1930, Tombaugh loaded two plates taken in late January into the blink comparator, and located a small and faint moving object. This discovery was announced on March 13, the anniversary of Lowell's birthday, and the planet was named Pluto.

During 14 years of sky surveys, Tombaugh located one globular star cluster, a super-cluster of galaxies, several lesser galaxy clusters, five "open" galactic clusters, and one comet. He also marked 3,969 asteroid images, 1,807 variable stars, and counted 29,548 galaxies. In his words, "Few astronomers have seen so much of the Universe in such minute detail."

In an interview with David Levy, Tombaugh recalled that:

"Here was a Universe vastly greater than anyone thought. Can you imagine what an awful shock it is to revise your thinking about the Universe to enlarge it so much? And I saw it happen in my lifetime."