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Clyde W. Tombaugh

AKA Clyde William Tombaugh

Born: 4-Feb-1906
Birthplace: Streator, IL
Died: 17-Jan-1997
Location of death: Las Cruces, NM
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Cremated

Gender: Male
Religion: Unitarian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Astronomer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Discovered Pluto

Military service: US Navy (1942-45)

As a teen Clyde W. Tombaugh was an amateur astronomer, and constructed his own telescope using a shaft scavenged from a 1910 Buick and grinding the lens and mirror himself. He sketched the surfaces of Mars and Jupiter, using only his homemade instruments, but he was unable to attend college after a 1927 hailstorm ruined the crops on his father's farm. Seeking only advice, he sent a portfolio of his work to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, but the observatory's director V. M. Slipher offered him a low-paying job as a photographic assistant. At Lowell, Tombaugh discovered two comets, more than a dozen asteroids, and hundreds of previously unknown variable stars, and on 18 February 1930 he made his best-known scientific accomplishment, detecting what was then regarded as the ninth planet of our solar system, Pluto.

After four years at Lowell Observatory he entered the University of Kansas, while continuing to work at the observatory in his summers. He signed up for Astronomy 101 but was rejected on the grounds that his discovery of Pluto had already made him one of the world's most famous astronomers, and it would be absurd to accept Tombaugh for such an introductory class. During World War II he entered the Navy and was assigned to teach astronomy, and after the war he worked at the White Sands Missile Range in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he designed the Intercept Ground Optical Recorder super-camera. In his astronomical work he also saw several unidentified flying objects, and he was also among the first respected astronomers to call for a serious scientific inquiry into the phenomenon.

During his lifetime Tombaugh was commonly referred to the only person to discover a planet in our solar system in the 20th Century, but nine years after his 1997 death the International Astronomic Union reclassified Pluto, demoting it to sub-planetary status.

Father: Muron Tombaugh (farmer, b. 6-Sep-1880, d. 31-Aug-1967)
Mother: Adella Pearl Chritton Tombaugh (b. 3-Aug-1884, m. 5-Feb-1905)
Sister: Esther Jane Tombaugh Spreen (b. 27-Sep-1908)
Brother: Ray Wilson Tombaugh (b. 29-Oct-1912)
Brother: Charles Frederich Tombaugh (b. 11-Feb-1914)
Brother: Robert Marvin Tombaugh (b. 4-Oct-1923)
Sister: Anita Rachel Tombaugh (b. 14-Jan-1929)
Wife: Patricia Edson Tombaugh (m. 1934, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Annette (b. 1940)
Son: Alden (banker, b. 1945)

    High School: Burdett High School, Burdett, KS (1925)
    Scholar: Lowell Observatory (1928-42)
    University: BS Astronomy, University of Kansas (1932)
    University: MS Astronomy, University of Kansas (1939)
    Teacher: Astronomy, Northern Arizona University (1943-45)
    Professor: Astronomy, New Mexico State University (1955-73)

    American Astronautical Society
    Asteroid Namesake 1604 Tombaugh

    Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (1991) · Himself

Author of books:
Out of the Darkness: The Planet Pluto (1980, with Patrick Moore)

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