All this talk recently of Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, reminds me of a funny story.
A couple weeks ago, Clyde’s 16-inch telescope was reassembled and dedicated at Rancho Hidalgo, Gene Turner’s observing site near Animas, New Mexico. See several recent blogs about that ceremony. It’s now been more than 10 years since Clyde’s death, but back in the 1980s I was fortunate enough to spend some time under the stars with him. Not only did I observe with the 16-inch scope when it was in his backyard in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on a junket taken with David Levy, but I also spent time under the stars with Clyde at the Texas Star Party (TSP) when he spoke at the gathering in 1987.
Clyde and David were very close, and David came to be Clyde’s biographer. One night at the 1987 TSP, we were set up at a large reflector, and for a time I was knocking off one galaxy after another as Clyde and David sat and talked. “What does the Whirlpool look like tonight, Dave?” Clyde would ask in his somewhat squeaky, high-pitched voice. “How many stars do you see superimposed on the face?” David added.
After a time, I wanted to sketch one of the galaxies on my list. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find my sketchbook — a large, oversized, bound volume filled with art paper. I looked and looked, shining the red penlight everywhere. Soon Clyde and David joined in the concern. It was nowhere. Eventually Clyde stood up from his folding chair and immediately shouted, “Oh, heck, I was sitting on it!”
We were already tired and silly, so David suggested we should all sign the book to commemorate the event. Clyde signed “I sat on this book / Clyde W. Tombaugh / 29 May 1987.” Underneath, David signed, “It was my chair / David H. Levy / 29 May 1987 TSP.” Under that, I signed, “It’s my book / Dave Eicher / 29 May 1987.” It was just another night observing the sky with the only person alive who had discovered a planet — and in those days it wasn’t preceded by the word dwarf!
Dave Eicher’s observing notebook from the late 1980s with the inscriptions by Tombaugh, Levy, and Eicher.
Apart from the silliness: a sketch Eicher made of the galaxy M81 in Ursa Major, as seen with amateur astronomer Ed Boutwell’s 17.5-inch reflector and a 32mm Tele Vue eyepiece.
Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful memory.
I had the pleasure of spending the evening of the anniversary of Pluto’s discovery at a star party with David Levy this year. We had a wonderful gathering of High School, Middle School and Elementary School kids, Parents, and Teachers, at an observatory near David’s house in Vail Arizona. He hosts the Vail Un-club star party there every month.
This month David shared with us stories of some special moments and memories he had in his long friendship with Clyde Tombaugh. I never had the opportunity to meet Clyde but listening to David gave the anniversary a very special personal touch for all of us. I think that stories like those you and David are able to share reinforce the significance of Clyde’s contributions regardless of any decisions by the IAU.
President of the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association