I watched the best NOVA last night, which covered Neal DeGrasse Tyson's journey to uncover why people were so disappointed that Pluto was demoted as a planet a few years back. The most memorable thing about the show was its coverage of Clyde Tombaugh, the totally awesome pioneering astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930.
This is a stained glass window in the Unitarian church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which Clyde Tombaugh helped to found. Las Cruces was Clyde's second hometown - he was born in Streator, IL, a small town that was also covered in the show.
People in Streator feel pretty strongly about Clyde and about Pluto.
Being from a small town myself, I was pretty interested in their reactions and in Neal's visit with Clyde's large, active family. A lot of people don't "get" the deal with small towns, but one of the Streator guys in the barbershop pretty much defined it when he said kids in Streator started learning about the planets when they were in 3rd grade, and then Clyde Tombaugh came up. When they learned that Clyde was born in Streator, and he discovered Pluto (FYI - I'm OK with calling Pluto a 'dwarf planet' since it is very small and icy - but NOT OK to demote it to really big asteroid that happens to be round and have moons) they would get very excited and feel very proud.
I can't think of any reason why everybody shouldn't be proud of and inspired by Clyde Tombaugh. Clyde had not gone to college, and had a menial, low-paying job at the Lowell observatory where Percival Lowell was committed to searching for "Planet X", whose orbit had been detected through disturbances in Neptune's orbit. Patiently searching over 1 year after Lowell's death, Clyde eventually found Pluto - almost a miracle given the equipment of the time. Clyde's family showed off his home-made telescopes during the show, which I also thought were about the best thing since sliced bread, especially the one with the lawnmower base.
According to his family, Clyde was modest and never comfortable with all the fame and attention that came from discovering a planet. After discovering Pluto, Clyde had the support and income he needed to go to college and receive degrees in Astronomy - he spent the rest of his life following his passion and teaching astronomy.
I guess I know why I found Clyde's story so inspirational and his family and hometowns so wonderful. It really is a testament to the human spirit of discovery, and also ingenuity and persistence in the face of adversity. Kind of like my buddy here. Collins needs more lines.