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Tuttle Comets

July 17, 2012

Not much could stop Horace Tuttle from searching for comets — not cold weather, international travel, or even the Civil War. In fact, about the only thing that slowed him down was himself.

Tuttle began his quest for comets as an assistant astronomer at Harvard College Observatory in 1857. He found four comets in a little more than a year, and won a major international prize. And he discovered one his most famous comets 150 years ago this week. It’s called Swift-Tuttle after the two men who discovered it independently — Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle. It’s the parent of the Perseid meteor shower in August. More about the comet tomorrow.

When the Civil War started Tuttle joined the Army, then soon transferred to the Navy. He served with distinction on several ships — all while devoting many of his nights to the hunt for comets. He stayed with the Navy after the war, and was sent on several international expeditions.

In 1875, though, Tuttle was accused of embezzlement. He’d been a Navy paymaster, and several years earlier his accounts had come up short. He wasn’t punished, though, until he tried to cash a large Navy check. He was court martialed, convicted, and given a dishonorable discharge.

Within weeks, though, Tuttle was working for another government agency as a staff astronomer. And in 1884, he returned to the Navy — as an astronomer with the Naval Observatory. While there, he found one more comet — his last — in 1888.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012


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