Clyde Tombaugh discovered dwarf planet Pluto in 1930. Image Credit: NASA
The existence of a planet beyond Neptune had been predicted by prominent American astronomer, Percival Lowell in 1905 but it was never proven in his lifetime. He had aimed a 40-inch reflector telescope at what he believed to be the right section of the sky, but he died in 1916 with his dream of discovering his so-called Planet X sadly unrealised. It was to be his biggest disappointment, yet it was the catalyst for a continued search. And, for amateur astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, Lowell’s hunch would yield great results.
Lowell’s legacy was the observatory that bore his name and which had been built in 1894 for the purpose of studying Mars. It had come to be looked after by his nephew, Roger Lowell Putnam, who in a twist of fate had been approached by Tombaugh in 1929, seeking feedback on his detailed drawings of Jupiter and Mars. Tombaugh was in his early 20s and he had built his own telescope. With an instant offer of a job, Tombaugh could never have foreseen what his decision to contact astronomers at the Lowell Observatory would lead to.
Tombaugh, who was born ...