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If you like Clyde Tombaugh's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Sylvia Earle,
Daniel Goldin,
John Mather,
Sally Ride,
Alan Shepard and
Donna Shirley

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Clyde Tombaugh in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Cosmos

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Clyde Tombaugh
 
Clyde Tombaugh
Profile of Clyde Tombaugh Biography of Clyde Tombaugh Interview with Clyde Tombaugh Clyde Tombaugh Photo Gallery

Clyde Tombaugh Interview (page: 7 / 8)

Discoverer of Planet Pluto

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  Clyde Tombaugh

Could you tell us what you're doing now?

Clyde Tombaugh: Well I get pressed by the public all the time. Dozens of people are after me all the time for favors. It really takes up a lot of time and I just don't have time to do the things I really want to do. I can ignore some of it, some it I can't. We have a new school a mile south of here called the Clyde W. Tombaugh Elementary School which the people of Las Cruces named in my honor. Every young kid in that school knows I found Pluto and it thrills them to death that they're going to the Tombaugh School. So I'm doing all right in this community. They give me great honor.

Do they ever come and visit you in your backyard?

Clyde Tombaugh: Oh yes. Many times. I've shown a lot of people my telescopes.

Tell me about your backyard.

Clyde Tombaugh: I have the big 16-inch out there, and the nine-inch you see right next to it. I have another telescope on an old lawnmower that wheels around to dodge the lights and trees. I looked at Halley's Comet with that. It's a beautiful ten-inch telescope. I made that also. I've made lots of mirrors.

And you mounted that telescope on an old lawnmower?

Clyde Tombaugh: Yes, because I can wheel it around to different parts of the yard. Some of the comets are so low in the sky, I'd have to move it around to dodge the house and trees. I couldn't do that with these other telescopes. So it's my portable telescope. I've taken it with me on trips up in the mountains sometimes, on outings with an RV and so on. I've had lots of fun with it.

Are you looking for anything in particular through those telescopes?

Clyde Tombaugh: No, just playing around, looking at the beautiful star fields and so on.


I have this feeling of wonder what it's like to kind of look there and just sweep around through the Milky Way and say, "Oh there's hundreds and hundreds of stars and star clusters." It gives me a feeling of great elation. It's a therapy for me, just idle, plowing through the sky. It's fun. I wonder about all the wonderful things that must be going on there that we don't see, realizing there are thousands and thousands -- millions -- of alien civilizations out there, doing things, maybe something like we are. This is something you think about.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


You do believe there are alien civilizations out there.

Clyde Tombaugh: Oh yes.


Our sun couldn't be so peculiar as to be the only one, out of octillions of stars, to have a planet with life on it. That's totally against the odds, even if you have only one star out of ten thousand that has a planet that is right for life. We know now from sampling with big telescopes, that the number of stars in the skies is ten to the 21st power. Now, that doesn't mean anything until I tell you that the number of grains of sand in all of the earth's ocean beaches is only ten to the 19th power. So there are a hundred stars to every grain of sand in all the ocean's beaches. They're not all sterile. How could they be? You have to realize there's this enormous potentiality of trillions of planets out there with alien civilizations on them. We are not the center of the universe. We are not all that important. And we're not alone. That's my perspective.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


You see these things in the sky in your plates and it's a wonderful education. You're made aware of the enormous vastness of the universe and all of the things that may be in it. That to me is a very challenging thought. I love to dwell on that, that wonderment.

Do you think finding other life out there is the next great scientific challenge?

Clyde Tombaugh: I think so. There are some facilities where they are trying to listen for somebody radioing to us that shows intelligence somewhere else in the universe. They haven't found it yet, but who knows what they may find. The only trouble is, a lot of them are too far away. They don't have the signal strength to get here to be picked up. But they're listening.

Is that the idea that most fascinates you right now?

Clyde Tombaugh Interview Photo
Clyde Tombaugh: Well it's one of the things. One of the things that fascinates me as a question is, "Is the universe finite or infinite?" Either way, it's impossible to imagine. So how do you handle it? I finally gave up and settled for a compromise and say I guess the universe is semi-infinite. We don't know. We have never found the edge of the universe. We've gone out to about eleven billion light years and haven't found the end. There are millions of galaxies like our Milky Way. Our Milky Way is one galaxy that contains about two-hundred billion suns. Now all of those stars cannot be sterile with no plants or life on them, can they? It just doesn't make any sense.

So you wonder - what is the purpose of the universe - if there is a purpose. We don't know. I am afraid that we sometimes are a little bit vain and we think the universe is made for us. That's our own vanity showing up.

You like to ponder these subjects, the universe?

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This page last revised on Dec 10, 2013 01:40 EDT