The thing with astronomical discoveries throughout history is that it's usually the astronomer, not the telescope, that is forever remembered. But when you visit the observatories where some of the biggest discoveries have been made, it becomes clear that the telescope is a monument in itself and a focal point for communities to be proud of.
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One such monument is near Flagstaff in Arizona that has the very proud distinction of being the telescope that was used to discover Pluto. And 86 years after it played a key role in that discovery, culminating in the NASA New Horizons flyby last year, the telescope needs some love and a Kickstarter campaign has been set up to renovate the telescope and its dome.
It was 24-year-old astronomer Clyde Tombaugh who made that fateful find on Feb. 18, 1930, as he was poring over photographic plates that were taken the previous month at Lowell Observatory. The plates came from a telescope that was built with the explicit task to seek out the mysterious "Planet X" in the outer regions of the solar system. The quest was started by Lowell Observatory's founder Percival Lowell in 1909, but the search went on long after his death in 1916, resulting in the discovery of Pluto by Tombaugh 14 years later. Although it turned out that Pluto wasn't Lowell's "Planet X," it was a planet nonetheless.
But in 2006, after the discovery of Eris, Pluto was controversially reclassified (or "demoted" as it was widely seen) from a "planet" to a "dwarf planet," an event that reverberates with astronomers and the public to this day.
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"For the visitors that come (to the observatory), Pluto has been controversial for so long -- "Is it a planet? Isn't it a planet?" -- and that's not going to change I don't think," Kevin Schindler, Lowell Observatory Historian, told Discovery News. "And because of that controversy, people want to learn even more about it.
"This discovery was made in America, it's often called "America's Planet" or "Arizona's Planet" or "Flagstaff's Planet," there's a certain level of community pride that comes with it. So while our visitors like to hear about the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh, they go into whispers when they see the telescope."
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