Tombaugh, Clyde William, 1906-1997.

Alternative names
Birth 1906-02-04
Death 1997-01-17

Biographical notes:

Clyde William Tombaugh was born February 4, 1906 on a farm near Streator, IL. The family moved to a farm in Kansas in 1922. He was hired to conduct planet-search photography in 1929 at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ. On February 18, 1930, Tombaugh discovered the ninth planet Pluto. The official announcement of the discovery was made March 13. The discovery led to awards and a scholarship to the University of Kansas where he started as a freshman in 1932, receiving his B.A. in 1936. In 1934, Tombaugh married Patricia (Patsy) Edson with whom he had two children. In 1939, Tombaugh received his M.A. from the University of Kansas. The family moved to Las Cruces, NM in 1946, and Tombaugh began work with the White Sands Proving Ground (WSPG). In 1953-55, he initiated and led the Near Earth Satellite Search at Lowell Observatory. The project transferred to the Physical Science Laboratory (PSL) at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in 1955. During 1958-73, Tombaugh initiated and led photographic planetary patrol work. From 1961-70, Tombaugh also taught astronomy half-time. 1968 saw the beginnings of the Astronomy graduate program at NMSU, finalized on July 1, 1970. In 1973, Tombaugh retired from NMSU as Emeritus Professor of Astronomy. He wrote "Out of the Darkness, the Planet Pluto," an autobiographical account of the discovery published with co-author Patrick Moore in 1980. Clyde W. Tombaugh died at his home on Jan. 17, 1997.

From the description of Clyde W. Tombaugh papers, 1892-2004. (New Mexico State University). WorldCat record id: 57517898

  • 1906, Feb. 4: Clyde William Tombaugh born on a farm near Streator, Illinois
  • 1922: Family moved to Kansas farm
  • 1925: Graduated from Burdett High School, Burdett, Kansas
  • 1926: Constructed first telescope
  • 1927 - 28 : Constructed 9-inch telescope
  • 1929: After sending planetary sketches to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, hired by observatory director V. M. Slipher to conduct planet-search photography
  • 1930, Feb. 18: Discovered ninth planet Pluto by comparing ("blinking") photographic plates
  • Mar.13: Official announcement of the discovery
  • 1931: Awarded the Jackson-Gwilt Medal and Gift by the Royal Astronomical Society in recognition of his discovery. Also received the Edwin Emory Slosson Scholarship to University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
  • 1932: Entered University of Kansas as a freshman; continued planet search work at Lowell Observatory in the summers while pursuing his university education
  • 1934: Married Patricia (Patsy) Edson (two children: Annette, born 1940 and Alden, born 1945)
  • 1936: B.A., University of Kansas
  • 1939: M.A., University of Kansas. Thesis: "Study of the Observational Capabilities of the University's 27-inch Newtonian Reflector with a Program to Restore the Telescope to Pristine Condition"
  • 1943 - 45 : Taught at Arizona State Teachers College (now Northern Arizona University) in Flagstaff, serving first as physics instructor for the college and later as navigation instructor for the Navy V-12 program
  • 1945: End of the Trans-Saturnian Planet Search at Lowell Observatory. In addition to identifying the ninth planet Pluto, during the course of the planet search Tombaugh discovered numerous star clusters and clusters of galaxies, hundreds of asteroids, two comets, one nova, and showed the full extent of the Great Perseus-Andromeda Stratum of Extra-Galactic Nebulae
  • 1945 - 46 : Visiting Assistant Professor in Astronomy at University of California at Los Angeles
  • 1946: Moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico
  • 1946 - 50 : As Chief of Optical Measurements Section at White Sands Proving Ground was responsible for the tracking telescopes used to photograph rockets and missiles during test flights
  • 1950 - 55 : Optical physicist in charge of optical and photographic research in the Systems Engineering Branch at White Sands Proving Ground
  • 1951: Founded Las Cruces Astronomical Society with Jed Durrenberger, Walter Haas, and others, and served as its first president
  • 1952: Returned to Lowell Observatory for a few months to conduct preliminary work on a proposed survey of proper motion stars
  • 1953 - 55 : Initiated and led Near Earth Satellite Search, funded by the Army Office of Ordnance Research and conducted at Lowell Observatory. Search was focused on identifying any small natural satellites of the Earth as a preparatory step to beginning space exploration
  • 1955: Administration of the satellite search project transferred from White Sands Proving Ground to the Physical Science Laboratory at New Mexico State University (NMSU)
  • 1955: Clyde and Patsy Tombaugh among the founding members of the Las Cruces Unitarian Fellowship (now Unitarian Universalist Church of Las Cruces)
  • 1956 - 58 : Satellite search project conducted in Quito, Ecuador; search was extended beyond the original end date of 1957 in order to photograph the first man-made satellite Sputnik I
  • 1958 - 73 : Initiated and led photographic Planetary Patrol of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn
  • 1959: Near Earth Satellite Search final report issued; no satellites had been found. This negative result gave assurance that rockets could be sent into space without colliding with natural debris
  • 1959 - 68 : Transferred from NMSU Physical Science Laboratory to new NMSU Research Center as associate research professor. In addition to the planetary patrol work, Tombaugh carried out projects studying the geology of Mars and conducted a site evaluation study for a proposed Air Force observatory near Cloudcroft, New Mexico
  • 1960: Received honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona
  • 1961 - 70 : Taught astronomy half-time in the Department of Earth Sciences (renamed Department of Earth Sciences and Astronomy in 1965), continued research work in NMSU Research Center half-time
  • 1968: Work to establish Astronomy graduate program at NMSU moves forward with the submission of a "Request for Preliminary Accreditation for a Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Astronomy"
  • 1970, July 1: Ph.D. granting Department of Astronomy established at New Mexico State University
  • 1972: Dedication of the Clyde W. Tombaugh Observatory on the New Mexico State University campus
  • 1973: Retired from New Mexico State University as Emeritus Professor of Astronomy
  • 1980: Out of the Darkness, The Planet Pluto, an autobiographical account of the discovery published with co-author Patrick Moore.
  • 1980: Numerous events held to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of Pluto, including the meeting "Pluto - The Ninth Planet's Golden Year" sponsored by the NMSU Department of Astronomy.
  • 1986: Clyde Tombaugh Scholars Fund in support of postdoctoral fellowship at New Mexico State University established
  • 1987 - 88 : Conducted national speaking tour to raise funds for Tombaugh Scholars Fund
  • 1997, Jan. 17: Clyde W. Tombaugh died at his home near Las Cruces, New Mexico

From the guide to the Clyde W. Tombaugh Papers, 1908-2000, (New Mexico State University. Archives and Special Collections Department.)


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