Clyde Tombaugh

Clyde William Tombaugh (1906–1997) was an American astronomer who discovered the dwarf planet Pluto in 1930.

Tombaugh was born in Streator, LaSalle County, Illinois. After his family moved to Burdett, Kansas, Tombaugh built his first telescope and sent drawings of his observations of Jupiter and Mars to the Lowell Observatory. These resulted in a job offer. Tombaugh was employed at the Lowell Observatory from 1929 to 1945. Following his discovery of Pluto, Tombaugh earned astronomy degrees from the University of Kansas and Northern Arizona University. He taught astronomy at New Mexico State University from 1955 until his retirement in 1973. He died in Las Cruces, New Mexico, 1997 and was survived by his wife Patricia, daughter Annette and son Alden, a retired banker.

Tombaugh was an active Unitarian-Universalist.

The asteroid 1604 Tombaugh, discovered in 1931, is named after him. He himself discovered 14 asteroids, beginning with 2839 Annette in 1929, mostly as a by-product of his search for Pluto and his further searches for other celestial objects. Tombaugh named some of them after his wife, children and grandchildren. The Royal Astronomical Society awarded him the Jackson-Gwilt Medal in 1931.

Some of his ashes are being carried on the New Horizons spacecraft which is traveling towards Pluto.

Interest in UFOs

Tombaugh was probably the most eminent astronomer to have reported seeing Unidentified Flying Objects and to support the Extraterrestrial hypothesis. On August 20, 1949, Tombaugh saw several UFOs near Las Cruces, New Mexico. He described them as six to eight rectangular lights, stating:

"I doubt that the phenomenon was any terrestrial reflection, because… nothing of the kind has ever appeared before or since… I was so unprepared for such a strange sight that I was really petrified with astonishment."

A similar shocked response has been reported by many other who claim to have seen mysterious aerial objects.

Another sighting by Tombaugh a year or two later while at a White Sands observatory was of an object of -6 magnitude, four times brighter than Venus at its brightest, going from the zenith to the southern horizon in about 3 seconds. The object executed the same maneuvers as in Tombaugh's first sighting.

Tombaugh was also later to report having seen three of the mysterious green fireballs, which suddenly appeared over New Mexico in late 1948 and continued at least through the early 1950s. Despite this, the final report of Project Twinkle — see external link — claimed that he "… never observed an unexplainable aerial object despite his continuous and extensive observations of the sky."

In 1956 Tombaugh had the following to say about his various sightings:

"I have seen three objects in the last seven years which defied any explanation of known phenomenon, such as Venus, atmospheric optic, meteors or planes. I am a professional, highly skilled, professional astronomer. In addition I have seen three green fireballs which were unusual in behavior from normal green fireballs … I think that several reputable scientists are being unscientific in refusing to entertain the possibility of extraterrestrial origin and nature."

Shortly after this in January 1957, in an Associated Press article in the Alamogordo Daily News titled "Celestial Visitor's May Be Invading Earth's Atmosphere," Tombaugh was again quoted on his sightings and opinion about them.

"Although our own solar system is believed to support no other life than on Earth, other stars in the galaxy may have hundreds of thousands of habitable worlds. Races on these worlds may have been able to utilize the tremendous amounts of power required to bridge the space between the stars…"

Tombaugh said he has observed celestial phenomena which he could not explain, but has seen none personally since 1951 or 1952. "These things, which do appear to be directed, are unlike any other phenomena I ever observed. Their apparent lack of obedience to the ordinary laws of celestial motion gives credence."

In 1949, Tombaugh had also told the Naval missile director at White Sands Missile Range, Commander Robert McLaughlin, that he had seen a bright flash on Mars in August 1941, which he now attributed to an atomic blast. Tombaugh also noted that the first atomic bomb tested in New Mexico would have lit up the dark side of the Earth like a neon sign and that Mars was coincidentally quite close at the time, the implication apparently being that the atomic test would have been visible from Mars.

In June 1952, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer acting as a scientific consultant to the Air Force's Project Blue Book UFO study, secretly conducted a survey of fellow astronomers on UFO sightings and attitudes while attending an astronomy convention. Tombaugh and four other astronomers told Hynek about their sightings, including Dr. Lincoln La Paz of the University of New Mexico. Tombaugh also told Hynek that his telescopes were at the Air Force's disposal for taking photos of UFOs, if he was properly alerted.

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