Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tombaugh Official Telescope Dedication

Today in Animas, New Mexico, at the Rancho Hidalgo housing development, the 16-inch telescope used by Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh in his later years will be officially dedicated at its new home, where it will serve as a centerpiece in a new educational program.

Members of the Tombaugh family and Tombaugh biographer David Levy, one of the discoverers of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which hit Jupiter in 1994, will be present for the dedication.

As an interesting note, in his later years, Tombaugh was aware of the controversy surrounding Pluto's status. Levy reportedly promised Tombaugh that he would always be a voice for Pluto's planethood, even after Tombaugh was gone.

The 16-inch telescope at Rancho Hidalgo has been refurbished and updated for frequent use. Gene Turner, one of the developers of this community, emphasizes that there are many people eager to look through Tombaugh's telescope. Personally, he has set himself a goal of viewing Pluto and Charon through the telescope as two separate objects, a feat rarely accomplished by amateur astronomers. Charon is half the size of Pluto and very close to the planet, which is why for so long, astronomers believed Pluto was far larger than it really is.  Until the discovery of Charon by James Christie in 1978, nobody realized that they were actually looking at not one but two separate objects in very close proximity to one another.

The owners of Rancho Hidalgo also own the Arizona Sky Village, another housing development geared specifically to skywatchers and therefore also a dark sky site (something that those of us here in light polluted New Jersey can very much appreciate!).

At Rancho Hidalgo, Pluto is a planet, says Turner, who plans to put a provision stating so in the development's official documents.

More information on Rancho Hidalgo and the Tombaugh telescope can be found at http://www.hidalgonm.com/ranchohidalgo_025.htm

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