Thursday, August 24, 2006

Clyde Tombaugh: a distinguished life in astronomy.

The decision by a council of astronomers meeting in Prague to demote Pluto to "dwarf planet" status brings to mind the remarkable man who discovered the little devil some seventy six years ago. Clyde Tombaugh secured his job as an assistant at Harvard's Lowell Observatory on the strength of some sketches of planets he had made based on observations through a home-made telescope. He was only 24 when he compared some photographic plates and noticed a dim object that moved in the manner to be expected of a distant planet. He has ever since been remembered as the discoverer of Pluto, but, as this brief biography points out, made many other contributions to our knowledge of the universe during his long career, including delineating a supercluster of galaxies spanning the sky from Andromeda to Perseus.

Here's hoping that the reclassification of Pluto doesn't dim the memory of this fine man, who died nine years ago at the age of 90.