- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Reprint edition (January 24, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385531109
- ISBN-13: 978-0385531108
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 223 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming Reprint Edition
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“Brims with humor and charm . . . exhilarating.”—Los Angeles Times
“[An] out-of-this-world science memoir . . . brilliant . . . brings clarity and elegance to the complexities of planetary science. Brown is also a surprisingly self-effacing and entertaining genius.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Brown’s brisk, enjoyable How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming chronicles the whole saga [of the demotion of Pluto] and, in the process, makes [its] sad fate easier to take. If we’ve lost a planet, we’ve gained a sprightly new voice for popular science.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Eminently readable and entertaining . . . blends elements of sleuthing, international intrigue, and the awe and wonder intrinsic to the exploration of space.”—The Oregonian
“An unlikely hybrid of Dennis Overbye’s Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos and Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Brown] might be the finest scientist alive today. . . . We’re all better off for this man’s breathtaking commitment to science.”—The Boston Globe
About the Author
Mike Brown is the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. In 2006 he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 People Who Shape Our World as well as one of Los Angeles magazine’s Most Influential People in L.A. He lives in Southern California with his wife and daughter.
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Check out a free class on Coursera that Mike Brown is teaching at Cal Tech on Solar System science -- he has me interested in the Solar System again, just when I was thinking we already knew all about it.
Brown's book brings the reader inside the world of high stakes astronomy and the workings of the International Astronomical Union. More importantly, Brown educates readers about how planets are discovered and whether or not these discoveries should be immediately announced.
Most crucially, Brown explains why Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status. I've always felt badly about this decision (as Brown notes, I was one of the many who asked "What did Pluto ever do to *you*?), but I must agree with his arguments as to why the reclassification makes sense. (One quibble: I'm not sure whether Brown has presented the views of Pluto's defenders accurately. If he has, they don't have much of a scientific leg to stand on, even if they are the sentimental favorites.)
If you're a Pluto devotee, this memoir will likely make you more comfortable with Pluto's downgrade. But even if it doesn't, it's a treat to meet Mike Brown, his devoted colleagues and the family he treasures: wife Diane Binney and daughter Lilah. Brown is not only informative, he's a deft writer, a keen observer and downright funny.
What is a planet, anyway? That's a tough question, one that's boggled great minds and those of us who are simply curious about planets in general. The latest controversy (and, no, it's not the only one in history) came about not so very long ago when the experts began to wonder if Pluto really was a planet. The world certainly knew it as one but it had fallen on hard times when it was discovered over a number of years that it's just not very big. In fact, it's smaller than our own moon. In fact there are a number of moons that are larger than our own moon and yet no one calls them a planet. Well, that's simple: they're orbiting planets so they've got to be moons, right?
Maybe, kinda, well, hmmmm. The problem here is how to classify planets or moons for that matter. All of the planets are different. There are different kinds of planets -- terrestrial planets are named after Earth (terra) and include Mercury, Venus, Earth & Mars; then there are the Jovian ones, named after Jupiter (Jove). Terrestrial planets are rocky ones, Jovians are the gasbags -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune -- and yet all of them are very different. Earth has oceans, the other terrestrials don't. Jupiter is bigger than all the other planets combined.
And now we have Dwarf Planets, but they decided that they are NOT really planets, though the word is included.
Very puzzling indeed. Real planets, like the original 8 (NOT Pluto, not anymore!) are the ones that have a "dominant effect" on the solar system. I would never argue that Jupiter is anything but a major player around here what with its powerful gravitational field and all. But Mercury? It's small, hard to see oftentimes, and poses very little threat. The lesser stuff, those non-planets like asteroids and such that may get hurled in our direction to cause mass destruction (if and when they hit us) or joy (like when they run into Jupiter) seem a much more dominant effect to me.
I could go on and on and on but I wouldn't help you understand. But I'm happy to report that this book is not only good at explaining these problems but is very readable and even well-rounded -- we hear a lot about his young daughter who was a newborn baby when he got involved with the Pluto controversy and who actually communicated through sign language before she could speak. And she likes planets. Now THAT's a good kid! And you'll also learn about just how hard it is to find out about those faraway bodies that Dr. Brown and his colleagues are discovering -- we still really don't know how big Pluto truly is (though we'll get a better handle on it New Horizons spacecraft has just reached it).
A very good book, indeed! Another related one is "The Pluto Files" by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
A major parallel story in the book is how the author discovered what was briefly thought to be the Tenth Planet. His discovery precipitated the change in both its, and Pluto's, status. The story is nicely told, in such a way that the technical details are described in an understandable way; and the personal drama that goes along with it is well told, too.
If you like astronomy or are simply interested in how the universe works, I think you will find this a fun and informative book.