We little humans on our floating rock discover celestial bodies long after they were born — we kind of can’t help it — but when we do, the date is a big deal to us. On this day in 1930, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh examined some photographs he’d taken and discovered our very own Pluto.
Tasked with finding a theorized planet further away than Neptune, Tombaugh used his astrograph to snap numerous pictures of a section of the sky over the course of several nights in January of 1930. With astronomical calculations, the help of exceptionally nerdy devices like the blink comparator, and presumably a hefty amount of elbow grease, he detected the object that would become Pluto one month later.
So happy 83rd birthday, Pluto! You’re still our favorite thing that is almost but not quite a planet. While it may be more than four billion miles away from us at any given time, we’re still fond of our former planetary compatriot. And even if it’s not a planet anymore, Pluto’s all grown up in our book, with at least five moons of its own. Speaking of which, did you know you can name the last two? Only seven days remain! Cast your vote into the cosmos.
On its discovery, Pluto was named after the Roman god of the underworld, in part, because of his ability to become invisible — just like that elusive planet-but-not-really that took a lot of effort to find and identify. Meanwhile, Clyde Tombaugh himself was a big fan of UFOs. He discovered hundreds of asteroids in his day, but he also spied some inexplicable lights in New Mexico and was a proponent of extraterrestrial possibilities. In the end, he was still a realist and couldn’t “entertain any serious possibility for intelligent life on other planets, not even for Mars.” But he totally wanted to believe. We can relate to that.
- Pluto’s fourth and fifth moons need new names
- The whole universe in under three minutes
- Wandering planet without a star