Clyde Tombaugh Interview (page: 8 / 8)
Discoverer of Planet Pluto
Clyde Tombaugh: That's sort of my religion, to ponder on these things. A lot of the answers I don't know, never will know. But it's fun to think about them.
Some of the ideas and inventions on our time were first imagined in science fiction. Does that have anything to do with some of the things you imagine?
Clyde Tombaugh: I remember some of the science fiction which has come true. One of the things that really fascinates me is the speed of light and electromagnetic radiation. For example, we can radio to astronauts on the moon. It gets there in one and a quarter seconds. How can it get there that fast? Now that's something to marvel about. Can you visualize a mechanism that would permit that kind of speed? I'm simply flabbergasted. I cannot imagine a mechanism that is able to accomplish that kind of a miracle, yet we talk to the astronauts on the moon like they're next door, you know? Isn't that a marvel? That's a tremendous accomplishment in communications, to talk to people on another world.
So I don't see how people nowadays, with all these marvels they're finding, can possibly be bored with life. I just don't understand that. To me it's all exciting. How can they be bored? That's beyond my understanding.
You still seem to have a great sense of wonder.
Clyde Tombaugh: Oh yes. The world fascinates me. There are innumerable things that are an absorbing interest for me. Trying to understand them. I always wanted to reach out and extend my horizons. I always wanted to know what's on the other side of the mountain. Never got over that.
What advice would you give a young person who wants to achieve something in this world?
Clyde Tombaugh: I would say be interested in knowledge and develop a curiosity if you don't have one. Do a lot of studying. Try to achieve a balanced life as much as possible. Be persevering, be honest, stay away from drugs, and act with some common sense, and you'll get there.
What about developing a specific passion?
Clyde Tombaugh: That may come when they start working on these problems. Of course, each one's different. Each one has a different idea of what he or she would like to do in life. That depends on their temperament. There are a lot of wonderful challenges in every walk of life, whatever they take a fancy to. And if possible, try to get into that field of work that particularly interests you because that's where you would do it better.
Do you have a lot of communication and conversations with other astronomers?
Clyde Tombaugh: All the time. Letters pour in by dozens and dozens. I go to conventions and meetings every year, so I'm in constant contact. It's fun to chat with people. For example, a year ago last June, we had a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Albuquerque and the Voyager Mission people invited me to have lunch with them. That was a high for me. Those men are marvelous talent.
It was a high for them.
Clyde Tombaugh: I suppose so. I don't think of it that way. I look up to them as if they were the achievers. To me, what I achieved was the most logical thing. I don't think it was particularly difficult, but other people say that was very difficult. It came kind of easy for me because I understood it for some reason. That had to be my latent talent.
What are you reading right now?
Clyde Tombaugh: I've been reading some books on astrophysics, and cosmology. All kinds of books. Of course, astronomy now has knowledge that's comparable to medicine. Very vast indeed. You have to specialize after you have some general instruction, because no one can know it all. It's too much. The fact is that you will spend a good deal of your life trying to be an expert in one field. It's amazing how much you really need to know and learn to find new discoveries. You have to know what's been done before and know the old in order to forge ahead. This requires a lot of background.
Would you say you are still learning?
Clyde Tombaugh: Oh, yes. I'll never get tired of learning. I'm always reading books. New stuff about the universe. Cosmology is occupying my attention right now. Quasars! We don't know what they are. They sure are fascinating things. Is the universe finite or infinite? This still just bugs me. I don't know what the answer is.
Do you think the early encouragement from your parents, your uncle, and teachers, made a lot of difference?
Clyde Tombaugh: Yes, I think it did. I might have made it anyway because I had this driving curiosity, but they helped a lot.
A lot of kids feel they are different, if they are interested in serious things like science. Other kids will call them a nerd and so on.
Clyde Tombaugh: I felt a little bit embarrassed about that. I realized that I did not care for the things that other kids seemed to like, so I thought, well, I'll go my way, they can go theirs. I had my own thought life, so that didn't worry me.
Is there any advice that you'd give to some kid who doesn't know what to do, who isn't part of the crowd, and who's embarrassed and frightened and lonely.
Clyde Tombaugh: I'd say, get books and study books. That is the key to the future. You will find comfort there, you will find knowledge, you will find inspiration. You will learn to think. The better you think, the higher you will rise. Each person has his own struggle. You know yourself better than anybody else knows you. It's your responsibility to make your life what you want it to be.
I don't know if young people realize that it's their responsibility.
Clyde Tombaugh: I felt that rather early. I wasn't troubled with peer pressure. I just ignored it. I didn't let it bother me. You might say books were my best companions.
Of course, life has its ups and down, and some people have better luck than others, just the way fate bounced. But a lot does depend on the individual, your attitude and what you are willing to endure to achieve and get ahead. You cannot afford to be lazy. You have to be challenging something. That way you grow, you develop more abilities, and it leads to success. That's my outlook.
You were interested in all kinds of knowledge, weren't you? Literature? Poetry?
Clyde Tombaugh: Yes. I always liked poetry. Longfellow is one of my favorites, Whittier, Tennyson and so on. Poetry is a beautiful means of expression which I still have a profound love for. In fact, at one time I thought I might become an astronomical poet, but it never quite materialized.
Are there poems that relate to astronomy?
Clyde Tombaugh: Oh yes. A lot of them. Tennyson says, "Then I saw the Pleiades rising above the middle shade... like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid." Beautiful. It's a long poem, but that's just a part of it.
What about Keats's poem, "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer?"
Clyde Tombaugh: I lifted a line from that and put it at the head of one of the chapters in my book.
"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken."
I think I understood that better than Keats did. I thought that was appropriate.
It was indeed. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.
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