A black and white photo of Clyde Tombaugh looking through a telescope.Is Pluto a planet? While this question garners much debate, there’s one fact people agree on: The solar system’s most famous dwarf planet was discovered by Illinois’ own Clyde Tombaugh of Streator.

Tombaugh was born Feb. 4, 1906 on his grandparents’ farmhouse on the northwest side of Streator and attended Heenanville Grade School and Streator High School. After schoolwork and helping his father on the farm, Tombaugh spent the evenings with his eyes to the sky. His uncle’s small handmade telescope helped launch his interest in outer space.

In 1922, Tombaugh’s family moved from Streator to Kansas. Around the age of 20, he began to build his own homemade telescopes using old farm equipment. One such telescope — measuring 24 feet long by 8 feet wide — allowed Tombaugh to make detailed drawings of Mars and Jupiter. He sent these drawings to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, which hired him in 1929.

Tombaugh discovered a new planet on Feb. 18, 1930 after being at Lowell Observatory for less than a year. At age 24, he was the first and only American to discover a planet. Pluto became the ninth planet in our solar system and was classified as such until 2006 when it was downgraded to a dwarf planet.

Although it’s no longer classified as a full-sized planet, Pluto — and the man who discovered it — are still widely celebrated in Streator. Two years after Tombaugh’s death in 1997, Streator dedicated its main street to him. The city has a mural, historical marker and Pluto sculpture all in honor of Tombaugh’s work and hosts Pluto Fest each year, which is a unique event celebrating the dwarf planet with souvenirs, crafts and activities.

The next time Pluto is in the news, remember how it all started: with a boy in Streator looking up at the dark Illinois sky.


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