LAS CRUCES - I’ve seen a lot of remarkable, handmade, beautiful and imaginative valentines recently, in the course of researching stories about February For the Love of Art Month and today’s feature on Valentine’s Day style in the Borderlands.
But there’s no contest when it comes to choosing my favorite Valentine this year. I’ve known since last summer, when the New Horizon’s probe approached Pluto with the ashes of the planet’s discoverer, our own Clyde Tombaugh, on board.
My first glimpse of what has become my favorite valentine of the new millennium was announced by Clyde’s daughter, Annette Tombaugh of Las Cruces.
“There’s a heart on Pluto!” exclaimed Annette. She and her brother Alden Tombaugh and their families were gathered to watch last July’s Pluto flyby in Laurel, Md., at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
It was the latest episode in what is clearly one of the most romantic, cosmic love stories of all time, at least for Aquarians like Clyde (who was born 110 years ago on Feb. 4) and me.
There’s a lot of love in the Tombaugh family, as anyone lucky enough to get to know them can attest. Neil deGrasse Tyson, though once in the forefront of those Grinches who called for Pluto’s demotion to a dwarf planet, dubbed the Tombaughs the nicest family he’d ever met after they welcomed him with open arms and open minds when he came to Las Cruces to film a PBS NOVA show on Pluto.
The family, including Clyde’s beloved wife, Patricia Edson Tombaugh, were there for the Jan. 19, 2006, Florida launch of the New Horizons Probe.
Patricia, who left planet Earth at age 99 in 2012, had hoped to be here with us to watch the flyby of the little celestial body that the couple brought to the attention of thousands of school children in lectures and special programs throughout their long lifetimes.
Many of us agreed that the heart was the kind of cosmic valentine the loving, creative couple would want to send us.
I check in every now and then with the New Horizons mission to Pluto website at pluto.jhuapl.edu to see what’s happening with analysis of data the probe is still sending us, and I always pause to visit those first, heartwarming images.
I did some internet surfing recently, and discovered the heart (which was quickly christened “Tombaugh Regio”), has attracted a fan base itself.
I found a slightly modified “I heart Pluto” valentine on singthis.org, the Society for Spontaneous Singing website, which sponsored a cosmic songwriting contest. For a good time, by the by, check out Rhett & Link’s “Pluto on the Rebound” video,
Cyberspace romantics and, I suspect, more than a few scientists, wax poetic, about Pluto, its moons and that amazing Pluto Regio. Some claim that it is the most perfectly shaped, and “largest natural heart” in the solar system, galaxy, or, heck, the whole of creation.
I don’t have the resources to verify sources for the whole of creation, and if Pluto has taught us anything, it’s that uniqueness is more important than size.
Let’s just say it’s a very fine heart. Our cosmic valentine: Here's looking at you, Pluto.
Annette, like her parents, is a dedicated educator, and shares their love of science and sense of humor and fun.
"My dad loved astronomy and he put a heart on Pluto. Pluto says, 'I love you no matter what you call me,'" Annette said last year.
Happy Valentine’s Day, local and cosmic Tombaughs, and Pluto and its moons and lovely heart-shaped Regio. Las Cruces loves you, too.
P.S, Don't forget to celebrate Tombaugh Day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Las Cruces Museum of Nature & Science. There will games, demos, workshops and an intriguing lecture on a timely topic: "What would a 9th planet mean for Pluto?"
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-5450, email@example.com or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.