Friday, June 3, 2011

Clyde Tombaugh: The man who discovered Pluto

While reading a book about our solar system recently with my 8-year-old son, I came upon a section about Pluto.
Once the ninth planet in our solar system, Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet in 2006. Pluto was discovered on Feb. 18, 1930, by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh.
I interviewed Tombaugh by phone in November 1985 for the Streator Times-Press newspaper in Illinois. At the time, he was 79 and a retired professor of astronomy at the New Mexico State University Research Center. He discovered Pluto when he was 24.
I’ve posted the article and its jump page on Twitpic.
Since the article was written for a small town newspaper, it focuses mostly on his recollections of growing up in central Illinois and his feelings about getting a historical plaque in his honor.
Tombaugh called Pluto a “very unusual planet.” Aside from having a proportionally large moon, Charon, Pluto is probably a big “methane-water-ammonia snowball,” he said. “Pluto has very little rocky consistency, very little metal.”
Much more has been learned about Pluto in the years since that interview.
Tombaugh died in January 1997 at age 90.
Four years from now, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to become the first spacecraft to visit Pluto. It will study the dwarf planet during a flyby. It will make its closest approach to Pluto on July 15, 2015.

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