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Pluto's Discoverer's Backyard Telescope For Sale 151

Schart writes "My dad, an amateur astronomer/astrophotographer, sent me this link detailing the potential selling of Clyde Tombaugh (the man who discovered Pluto)'s backyard telescope. It features a 16 inch f/10 mirror which was hand-ground by the astronomer himself as well as a massive superstructure and 1-ton tube."
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Pluto's Discoverer's Backyard Telescope For Sale

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  • COuld someone just accept Pluto and Sedna as planets regardless of size?
    • I would rather downgrade Pluto as a Kuiper object, and Sedna as well.
    • by Moonpie Madness ( 764217 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @07:15AM (#8632771)
      The problem my friend is that we will discover dozens more in that size range. It is terribly inconvenient, and pretty inaccurate, to momorize the list of 30-50 planets when clearly there is a difference between merc-neptune and the rest. we need to chance the way we picture the solar system. it isnt a defined planet of ten spheres that suddenly stop. it goes on and on and on and thins to the point where its just arbitrary to define the end. no problem naming the solar orbital objects sedna and pluto and etc, but its impractical to classify every such thing a planet just to make scientists feel warm
    • by linoleo ( 718385 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @07:35AM (#8632833) Journal
      COuld someone just accept Pluto and Sedna as planets regardless of size?

      Why? Because it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling? Will you still feel the same when the 10'000th Kuiper Belt "planet" the size of Sedna will be discovered? And it will, eventually - there's a huge amount of ill-light space that far from the sun, and we've barely scratched the surface of all that's bound to be lurking out there. We should really reserve a term (or two) to denote a) the four sizeable rocky bodies orbiting the sun inside the asteroid belt, and b) the four gas giants orbiting the sun between the asteroid belt and the Kuiper belt.

      Pluto is a special case: on one hand it looks like what we would expect from a typical Kuiper belt object (KBO), on the other it is bound to be the closest large KBO by far. Historically it was discovered (the same as Neptune) by its perturbative effect on another planet's orbit, long before any other KBOs, so it gets grandfathered in as an honorary "planet". Fair enough.

      Sedna, on the other hand, is three times (!) as far out from the sun as Pluto; at that distance we expect to find thousands of KBOs of comparable size. Calling them all "planets" would be like starting to call all schools of whatever level "university" - a status grab that would ultimately achieve nothing but a devaluation of the more prestigious term, and a muddling of the underlying factual distinctions.
      • Calling them all "planets" would be like starting to call all schools of whatever level "university" - a status grab that would ultimately achieve nothing but a devaluation of the more prestigious term, and a muddling of the underlying factual distinctions.
        Good thing the British Govt isn't responsible for designations of astronomical objects, then.
      • Historically it was discovered (the same as Neptune) by its perturbative effect on another planet's orbit, long before any other KBOs, so it gets grandfathered in as an honorary "planet".

        Actually, Pluto's not massive enough to have a noticeable pertubartive effect on Neptune. It was another astronomer's mistaken belief that perturbations in Neptune's orbit were caused by a planet that started Tombaugh on the search for Pluto.

        But since Tombaugh had essentially no clue where to look as other planet discove
    • I do not know about Sedna, but Pluto doesn't look like a planet to me [the-society.com].
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you accept Pluto and Sedna as planets, "regardless of size," what about Ceres? What about Quaoar? What about Chiron? You've got to draw a line somewhere.

      The truth is, there are terrestrial planets (and terrestrial satellites, like Io or the Moon), asteroids (and asteroidal satellites), Jovian planets, Kuiper Belt Objects (and SKBOs, and KBO-like satellites, like Charon and maybe Triton), and Sedna's kind of object, and comets (little KBO-like objects that come in so far they start to sublimate). "Planet

      • There are only 5 planets that can been seen wandering in the sky with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          It's just barely possible to see Uranus with the naked eye - it comes in below magnitude 6 (an average person can see up to 6.5 or so in ideal circumstances). Most people in range of an Internet connection probably won't be able to, though, and it doesn't exactly jump out at you the way the others do. ;)

        • There are only 5 planets that can been seen wandering in the sky with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

          And Earth obviously.

  • by ChaoticPenguin ( 580349 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @06:34AM (#8632665)
    Perhaps, some philantrophist can buy this piece of history to donate to a museum? Such pieces of history deserve more exposure than in the home of a private collector.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 22, 2004 @06:36AM (#8632673)
    From the link:

    Ernest inquiries only please!

    Will this be the basis for a new movie, Ernest Goes to Space?
  • by Debug This ( 702664 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @06:37AM (#8632675)
    It's a nice antique and everything, but i dont see the point in buying it.. in practical terms, it probably does less than a 'new' telescope could, and i don't like the prospects for "bragging rights" either --

    "Hey, i have the telescope that first saw Pluto!"
    "That's nothing, yesterday, i made a PIZZA."

    • it's *not* the telescope that first saw Pluto. So the pizza's even better.

    • Well, it _is_ a 16". But I wonder if it is resilvering time? Even if aluminum, how long does aluminum last?
    • Its awful big, true, but thats a pretty sizeable mirror. And historical telescopes are very much worth preserving. For example, here [washington.edu] at the UW is only a 6 inch Brashear, but the astronomy department would definitely object to the suggestion that it's useless.

      I would hope that the buyer would take the same approach the UW astronomy department did and use it in an outreach program. Its much more powerful than the typical amateur would ever be able to use, and would be an excellent teaching tool. Its his

    • Re:What's the point? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jridley ( 9305 )
      There's no reason to think it wouldn't be every bit as good as a new 16" scope. An inch of mirror diameter is the same size then as now, the quality just depends on how well it was ground. Mirror grinding hasn't changed significantly in 100+ years except people are using machines for the tedious parts now (they're not more accurate, just less tedious). There's no reason in the world to assume that this scope isn't every bit as good as any new scope.

      At worst, the mirror may need stripping and recoating,
  • Not the pluto 'scope (Score:5, Informative)

    by dtl ( 670833 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @06:41AM (#8632687)
    This isn't the telescope used to discover pluto. Pluto was discovered in 1930, this telescope wasn't even finished until 1960.

    Probably a nice telescope, but it doesn't come with discovery bragging rights.
    • No, but it does come with "hey I got Clyde Tombaugh's telescope" bragging rights.
    • It's times like this i wish i had read the article a little better; i saw the words 'telescope', 'pluto', 'buy' and came to the logical conclusion. Uhh, whoops...

      That aside, doesnt that just emphasise my point? A few people have said that "A museum should have this piece of history", etc etc -- but when you think about it, it isn't really [a piece of history]; kind of like selling Neil Armstrongs Best Friend's sneakers. Sure, they may have had contact with a 'famous' person, but they didn't exactly bring

    • Sell it on ebay (as a Disney product?)
    • RTFA? Nah, I thought not. There is no claim of it being the telescope used in the discovery.

      The telescope was made by the discoverer of Pluto. Is that not enough "bragging rights" for you?
      • Yes, I read the article, that is how I knew the date the 'scope was finished.

        At the time I posted the comment, there were plenty of posts suggesting this was the discovery scope. I just posted to correct this notion.
    • And Pluto was discovered by Percival Lowell, thus the "PL" symbol for the planet Pluto.

      I seem to remember that Lowell used a standard refracting telescope which was something like 6m long. anyone got a link to a picture?
      • by dtl ( 670833 )
        Umm, not quite.

        Pluto was discovered at the the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell himself had made a calculation that suggested planet X existed beyond the orbit of neptune, however he died in 1916.

        Credit for the actual discovery of Pluto goes to Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. IIRC the planet was named after the greek god of wealth, rather than after Lowell.
      • by ReadParse ( 38517 ) <john@NoSPaM.funnycow.com> on Monday March 22, 2004 @08:51AM (#8633044) Homepage
        And Pluto was discovered by Percival Lowell, thus the "PL" symbol for the planet Pluto.

        No, it wasn't. Percival Lowell died in 1916, but he had started the search for "Planet X" before he died (and back when X was simply a variable instead of a marketing word directed at young people). Astronomers of the time knew that there was something affecting the orbits of Neptune and Uranus.

        Lowell founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, and that was where Tombaugh discovered Pluto, when he was a 24-year-old research assistant.

        It appears that the symbol of PL was chosen as an homage to Lowell.

        RP
      • PL is for Perceval Lowell, but Tombaugh was the discoverer. He used Lowell's calculations, which he trusted so much that he SCOURED the area where X should have been, and managed to find a KBO decades before he had any right to. Even so, it wasn't quite where Lowell said it would be. That's pure, unadulterated, good observing. That's why this is such an interesting scope: because it was built by a guy who was good enough to discover something very, very new.
  • by Linker3000 ( 626634 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @06:50AM (#8632701) Journal
    Nasa purchases the telescope and lashes it to Hubble - hey presto, cheap fix, NASA saves money by recycling and everyone's happy.
  • by amigoro ( 761348 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @06:53AM (#8632710) Homepage Journal
    Here are some interesting links (and my attempt at KW)
    Clyde W. Tombaugh 1906-1997 [icstars.com]
    An Interview with Dr. Tombaugh [achievement.org]
    Status of Pluto [iau.org]
    Image s of Pluto [nasa.gov]
    The New Planet(oid) [caltech.edu]

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  • by jazman ( 9111 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @07:17AM (#8632778)
    Nice 'scope. Shame he built it under a bunch of trees. Shady location of course, keeps the sun off nicely. Also keeps off the light from Saturn's spokes (huh? WTF is THAT about?)
    • Flamebait?

      If you look at the picture you can see it's surrounded by tall trees. I would have thought that would be a bit of a problem for an OPTICAL telescope. IANAA so perhaps it wouldn't be an issue for other types, but the article seems to describe an optical scope fairly clearly.

      The article also refers to spokes in Saturn's rings. I thought the rings were a bunch of floating rocks organised into nice flat circular shapes (although could have been watching too much Voyager). So what are the spokes
      • The spokes are streams of dust held in patterns above the rings by Saturn's magnetic fields. They have been spotted from earth, but reports were not taken all that seriously until they were confirmed by the Voyager probes.
        -aiabx
    • The trees are there to hide him from the lady down the road while he's watching her get undressed. I would have thought that'd be obvious to any self respecting nerd. ;-)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Before it was ever observed. Same as Neptune. [and I am going to try the lame ass mithuro.com mod thing]

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    • by StupendousMan ( 69768 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @10:00AM (#8633436) Homepage
      .... unlike Neptune.

      Lowell thought that very small deviations of the motion of Uranus from its calculated orbit indicated that there must be another planet ("Planet X") perturbing its motion. He estimated where it might be, started a big search for it, and then died.

      Many years later, Tombaugh stumbled across Pluto while making a survey of the entire ecliptic. Yes, the planet was very roughly in the region of the sky Lowell had predicted. But it was soon obvious that the mass of Pluto was way, way, way too small for it to be responsible for the residuals in the orbit of Uranus. It was simply coincidence that one object (Pluto) happened to be roughly in the same area that another (the hypothetical perturbing planet) was calculated to be.

      An article by Standish in Astronomical Journal (1993) shows that the residuals Lowell was using were incorrectly computed, and that there is no evidence for a perturbing planet. Here's a section of the abstract:

      It is shown that the alleged 'unexplained anomalies in the motion of Uranus' disappear when one properly accounts for the correct value of the mass of Neptune and properly adjusts the orbit of Uranus to the observational data. .... there remains no need to hypothesize the existence of a tenth planet in the solar system.

      And yes, I am an astronomer.

  • by Moonpie Madness ( 764217 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @07:20AM (#8632786)
    my university could use this telescope. I go to Texas Tech, and our observatory is now in the middle of a lit up parking lot. The other one fell off of its artillery mount. We have a few reflecting scopes, the kind you carry around, but this would be a neat monument/useful tool. Bah' It seems all my school wants to improve is its 256 billion $ football stadium... Still, perhaps the right place for this is a non elite school
    • I go to Texas Tech, and our observatory is now in the middle of a lit up parking lot.

      Even though bright lights ruin many observations, planet and moon observing can still take place. Planets are bright enough that having a dark background does not matter much.

      Also, sometimes filters can be used to filter out light from certain street lamps, but not all lights are easy to filter because some have "fat" spectrum lines that filters cannot target without also washing out star and nebula light. Thus, lights
  • Well done. (Score:5, Funny)

    by CGP314 ( 672613 ) <CGP.ColinGregoryPalmer@net> on Monday March 22, 2004 @08:12AM (#8632934) Homepage
    Clyde Tombaugh (the man who discovered Pluto)'s

    Best. Misuse of an apostrophe. Ever

    -Colin [colingregorypalmer.net]
  • by Zog The Undeniable ( 632031 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @08:21AM (#8632955)
    ...and lectures in astronomy. I do quite a bit of photography and I'd read somewhere that Leica lenses (generally considered to be the best 35mm lenses available) are ground to an accuracy of about half a wavelength of light - say 200nm. He just shrugged and said his lenses are accurate to better than 1/10 wavelength. He designed and built the lens grinding machine himself, so he should know.
  • S&H (Score:5, Funny)

    by MagicDude ( 727944 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @08:37AM (#8632999)
    massive superstructure and 1-ton tube

    Shipping and handling are going to be a bitch.
  • by (trb001) ( 224998 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @08:47AM (#8633024) Homepage
    ...as well as a massive superstructure and 1-ton tube.

    Buyer to pay actual shipping costs. Will ship only to North America. Seller prefers Paypal.

    --trb
  • by RCO ( 597148 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @09:11AM (#8633123) Journal
    "...soooo, why don't you come over to my place and I'll show you my Telescope..."

    The sad part is, they will actually mean it, I know, I've done it. But this one would be really cool, at least to me it wood, er would.
    • RCO (597148) sez:"...soooo, why don't you come over to my place and I'll show you my Telescope..." The sad part is, they will actually mean it, I know, I've done it."

      It's only sad if you're not doing it right. I did. Hence, there is my son, Orion.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 22, 2004 @09:21AM (#8633192)
    If you're interested in the historical significance of its previous owner, then this might be the telescope for you. For the rest of us, there are far better options.

    First, this is a huge contraption. The f/10 focal ratio means the focal length is 160 inches so your actual field of view is going to be quite narrow; on the order of 1/2 degree or less. That makes this a good planetary scope but rules out alot of extended deep space objects. For example, though you can't see all of it with your naked eye, the Andromeda galaxy is actually more than 3 degrees (that's 6 full moons).

    Second, portability. The steel truss tube alone for this scope weighs 2000 pounds. Not going to be able to take that to many dark locations in your trunk.

    One can buy a quality 16-inch truss-type Dobsonian telescope for $4000. You can find 20-inch or larger Dobsonian telescopes for under $6000 (a gentleman 20 miles from me is currently selling his 22-inch Starmaster dob with a premium mirror for $8000). Equatorial platforms can be built/bought for these scopes to allow adequate tracking for long-exposure astrophotography. These are generally faster f-ratio scopes (usually between f/5 and f/4) so they offer much wider fields of views than an f/10 scope. And here's the kicker: they're portable. They can be broken down in minutes and transported in an SUV or minivan.

    So, for collectors, this is an interesting telescope. For the rest of us, there are better options if you're looking for afforable large apertures.

  • This cool piece of junk is definitely worth to be placed in a public exposition, just next to some relay computer. An astronomer capable of drilling and bolting is a rarity which must be remembered!
  • Napoleon Carreau (Score:2, Interesting)

    In this article, it says the mirror for the telescope was ground by the astronomer himself. However, in my family it has always been said that the LENS in the telescope used to discover Pluto was ground by my great-grandfather, Napoleon Carreau. I know nothing about astronomy or the history book version of Pluto's discovery, so I'm a little confused. I was also under the impression that the "planet X" telescope was in a museum right now. Is it possible that this telescope uses a lense in addition to a mirro
    • Tombaugh discovered Pluto using 13" astrograph telescope which is still at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. link [lowell.edu]
      It can be seen by the general public as part of their day walking tour.
  • by BCW2 ( 168187 ) on Monday March 22, 2004 @11:58AM (#8634692) Journal
    I grew up in Las Cruces and my Dad was a professor at NMSU. We lived about half a mile from Dr. Tombaugh and when I was a teen he invited me to come see this telescope. We looked at mars and venus that night. Really impressive.
    He was also a good teacher and nice guy.Later he lectured a 101 level astronomy class on the discovery of pluto, that my wife took.
    • Last year, when Mars was near, NMSU had an open house and we got to look at Mars through a telescope that Tombaugh made using an missile casing (or something like that). I think it was a 12" or so but the staff there said that because it was so well made, you could see a clearer image than you could through some of their larger, more generic telescopes.
  • When I was in high school I thought about building my own telescope and looked into how one grinds a mirror by hand. I can't imagine the patience and skill needed to grind a 16" mirror by hand to the perfect shape... Absolutely amazing to me... -----

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  • As a junior in high school, I had the privelege of having lunch with Clyde Tombaugh in 1985 in Flagstaff. A friend of the family worked for the newspaper, knew I loved astronomy, arranged meeting and I'll never forget it. Just myself, stepdad, reporter, and a living legend. He was smart and funny, and I'd love to be able to buy that telescope!
  • This is my old neighborhood, about five houses away. I used to walk by it every day with the dog. I never had the guts to run up and take a look through it...

    It's made with lots of common stuff including tractor parts and other farm equipment, and alot of cinder blocks. The story goes that they wanted to put it in a museum but at the time Tombaugh was still using it on a regular basis. It's commonly known around the area that although CT discovered pluto and used the telescope right up until he died, it wa
  • I grew up in Las Cruces, NM. Very close to Clyde W. Tombaugh's home. Back when I was in the Boy Scouts we got the chance to use this telescope. The workmanship is awesome. This thing was very mechanical, even the clockwork on the side that allowed it to track the sky seemed to be masterfully built and very effective. The mirror quality was something to envy. We could easily make out colors in some of the brighter nebula. That was also the first time I had seen the split in saturns rings. I hope whoev

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