Photo: Clyde Tombaugh at the guide scope of the 13-inch astrograph he would use to discover Pluto.
Tombaugh stands with one of his homemade telescopes | Unknown (public domain)
The eldest of six children, Clyde Tombaugh was born on a farm near Streator, Illinois. He began helping his father around the farm at an early age, planting corn, threshing oats and wheat, and various other labor-intensive tasks. He loved reading in his spare time, particularly on the subjects of geography and history. Exploring the world, both in the past and the present, helped make small-town farm life feel a little less small. When Clyde reached his teenage years, however, the world wasn’t enough—the thought of what lay beyond it captured his imagination, and astronomy took over as his favorite interest. Clyde was lent a three-inch telescope and an astronomy book by his Uncle Lee. Clyde would later say it was this book that introduced him the astronomers who would become his heroes: Galileo Galilei, William Herschel, and Percival Lowell.
In 1920, Clyde’s father and uncle purchased a 2¼ -inch telescope from Sears-Roebuck, which Clyde would use to view the cosmos as often as he could. Two years later, the Tombaugh ...