Tombaugh UFO Sightings: The Man That Discovered Pluto Also Had Some Fascinating Encounters With UFOs

In 1930 astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered the dwarf planet, Pluto. However, in 1949 he and his family had an extraordinary encounter with a UFO from his backyard in New Mexico. Throughout his long career, he claimed to have witnessed unexplainable aerial phenomena on several occasions.

Clyde Tombaugh not only discovered Pluto, he had several encounters with UFOs
Clyde Tombaugh not only discovered Pluto, he had several encounters with UFOs

In January 1930, astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered the planet, Pluto. At 10:45 on the evening of August 20, 1949, he, his wife, and his mother-in-law saw something potentially as important to science. The three observers were gazing at the stars from the backyard of the Tombaughs's Las Cruces, New Mexico, home when the event occurred.

According to Tombaugh:

"I happened to be looking at the zenith when suddenly I spied a geometrical group of faint bluish-green rectangles of light similar to the "Lubbock lights". As the group moved south-southeasterly, the individual rectangles became foreshortened, their space of formation smaller (at first it was about one degree across, twice the diameter of the full moon), and their intensity duller, fading from view at about 35 degrees above the horizon. The total time of visibility was about three seconds. I was too flabbergasted to count the number of rectangles of light or to note some other features I wondered about a year later. There was no sound. I have done thousands of hours of night sky watching, but never saw a sight so strange as this. The rectangles of light were of low luminosity: had there been a full moon in the sky, I am sure they would not have been visible.
My wife thought she saw a faint connecting glow across the structure. The illuminated rectangles I saw did maintain an exactly fixed position with respect to each other, which would tend to support the impression of solidity."

In 1953 astronomer and UFO debunker Donald H. Menzel "hazarded a guess... that a low, thin layer of haze or smoke reflected the light of a distant house or some other multiple source."

Tombaugh rejected his colleague's suggestion, however, writing, "I doubt that the phenomenon was any terrestrial reflection, because in that case, some similarity to it should have appeared many times but nothing of the kind has ever appeared before or since."

Clyde Tombaugh was a well known and highly respected astronomer
Clyde Tombaugh was a well known and highly respected astronomer

To atmospheric physicist, James E Mcdonald, Menzel's theory was "physically absurd, no inversion ever known in the history of meteorology could give a reflection at the near-normal incidence involved here."

In a 1956 private letter to ufologist Leonard H. Stringfield, Tombaugh admitted that he had had other UFO sightings:

"I have seen three objects within the past seven years which defied any explanation of known phenomena, such as Venus, atmospheric optics, meteors, or planes. I am a professional, highly skilled observing astronomer. In addition, I have seen three green fireballs which were unusual in behaviour from scores of normal green fireballs. I think that several reputable scientists are being unscientific in refusing to entertain the possibility of extraterrestrial origin and nature."

Over the years Tombaugh expressed radically conflicting opinions about the significance of what he had observed. In January 1957, Associated Press quoted him as explicitly endorsing the reality of interstellar visitation. But in the early 1960s, Tombaugh produced a statement that, his earlier rejection of the theory notwithstanding, in effect endorsed Menzel's atmospheric-reflection idea. Entirely reversing a prior statement, he contended that the fact that he had never seen anything like it before or since suggested it was a natural phenomenon, albeit a "comparatively rare" one. For logistical reasons, he considered visitation from other solar systems virtually impossible.

In a telephone conversation with McDonald on October 24, 1966, however, Tombaugh said that the subject of UFOs "deserves careful scientific investigation by reliable people" and that extraterrestrial visitation was possible. In 1975, he stated that he could not explain what he had seen; it was "still a very open question."

Tombaugh confided details of another sighting, apparently a year or two after the first, to astronomer and Project Blue Book consultant, J. Allen Hynek, who wrote in a classified memo: "While at telescope No. 3 at White Sands (proving ground), Tombaugh observed an object of -6 magnitude (four times brighter than the planet Venus at its brightest) travelling from the zenith to the southern horizon in about three seconds. The object executed the same maneuvers as the nighttime luminous object" he had seen earlier.

Tombaugh died on January 17, 1997.


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