Shortly after his twenty-fourth birthday, in February of 1930, a young astronomer working at the famous Lowell Observatory would make history when he discovered Pluto. So how did Clyde Tombaugh, without a college degree, get from a farm in Kansas to one of the world’s premier centers for astronomy? He stayed focused!

Clyde loved astronomy, but he found that the inexpensive telescopes he could get from the stores in those days were not built well enough to help him pursue his dream of becoming an astronomer. So, before there was a “maker” movement, Clyde built telescopes out of car parts and farm equipment. To make sure his custom lenses and mirrors were free from defects, he dug a huge testing cellar using only a shovel and pick.

Clyde’s goal was to go to college and study astronomy, but after a hailstorm destroyed his family’s crops one year, he had to put that dream on hold. He never stopped looking at the night sky though. Clyde built several successful telescopes, and he sent some of his drawings of Jupiter and Mars to astronomers at the Lowell Observatory, hoping they might take the time to offer some suggestions. What they sent back instead was a job offer!

Tombaugh took the job, moved to Arizona, and was tasked with the painstaking work of looking for what the Lowell astronomers had predicted could be, at the time, the ninth planet in our solar system. For months, Clyde examined photographs to hunt for this tiny speck. Eventually, he found what he was looking for: a dim point on a picture that moved slightly over time when compared to the stars and galaxies around it. After discovering Pluto, Clyde was offered a full university scholarship, and went on to a long career in astronomy and education.

Clyde stayed fixed on his vision of becoming an astronomer, and used what he had at hand to follow his dream. When the opportunity for discovery arose, Clyde was ready for the challenge!

Staying in Focus – Resources

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