Clyde Tombaugh

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  • Topic: Pluto, New Horizons, Dwarf planet
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Science 102, Astronomy
Feb. 22, 2012

Clyde Tombaugh
Discoverer of Pluto

Table of contents

Introduction| 2|
Background| 2|
Major Contributions| 2, 3|
Pluto Data| 3|
Other Discoveries| 3, 4|
Conclusion| 4|
Pluto Data| 5|
Charts & Graphs| 6|
Works cited| 9|
Statement of Integrity| 10|
| |

Clyde Tombaugh was a self taught, amateur astronomer looking for some feedback of drawings he made based on his observations of the night sky. What he got, though, was a start in what would be a long and distinguished career in the field of astronomy and one of the most famed discoveries ever made by an American astronomer, he found the planet Pluto. Clyde Tombaugh was born in 1906 and raised in a small farming community in Streator Illinois and later moved to a family farm in Western Kansas. He had his first look through a telescope at age 14 and was hooked. He eventually began making his own telescopes and would go on to build over 30 in his lifetime. (, Clyde Tombaugh) After building one particular telescope, one with a very accurate 9 inch reflector, he sent drawings of Jupiter and Mars to astronomers at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff Arizona for comments. They were so impressed with his work that they offered him a job. The Lowell observatory was working on the construction of a telescope with a 13 inch telescope and needed someone to take pictures and document the findings in a search for “Planet X”. The existence of Planet X was predicted by astronomer Percival Lowell who died in 1913. Tombaugh’s meticulous nature made him perfect for the job. By his own account he was a perfectionist, in his book, “Out of the Darkness, The Planet Pluto” he said “Nothing short of perfection would satisfy me” (117). Only high school educated, Clyde Tombaugh went to work for the Lowell Observatory in January of 1929, in February of 1929 the 13 inch telescope was ready for use and on February 18, 1930 Clyde Tombaugh saw, what was later named, the planet Pluto on some slides that he had taken a few weeks earlier. To prove that what he saw was, in fact, a new planet, he took some more pictures as proof. The announcement was made to the Public on March 13, 1930 to coincide with Lowell’s 75th birthday. The country was entering the depression and what might have only been a story for the scientific Journals became front page news on the New York Times. (D’Alto 32) Tombaugh became an American hero for this discovery the country was enamored with this every day, typical, farm boy. The Times alone would go on to print over 70 headlines on the Pluto story. Pluto is the smallest planet discovered. According to Tombaugh’s data in “Out of the Darkness, The Planet Pluto”, it has a mass of 1.31 x10^22kg, a diameter of 2900 km, an orbital period of 248 years, its average distance from the sun is 39.5 AU, and it has four moons (Charon, Nix, Hydra, and P4). (203) Pluto is made up of 65% rock and 35% ice. It is on the edge of the Kuiper belt, an asteroid belt about 30 to 50 AU from the sun. The discovery of a 10th and slightly larger planet, Eris, has caused many in the scientific community to no longer see Pluto as a planet but as a dwarf planet. In 2006, According to the article, “Pluto is a Planet: True or False”, the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet. (Schibeci 44). They also, controversially redefined what a planet is: 1) A celestial body that orbits the sun 2) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a nearly round shape and 3) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit. Pluto has not cleared its orbit. Despite this new definition, there are many in the scientific community that still fights to have Pluto remain a planet. While Pluto is the most significant discovery Clyde Tombaugh has made, it is not the only one. According to David H. Levy’s article “Clyde Tombaugh’s Rich Legacy”...
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