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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.
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.
Deciding what is and is not a planet may seem simple enough to those who have never given the matter any thought, but Brown opens by reviewing just how challenging the issue has been throughout history. As a species, we've been looking at up the skies for a long, long time. Over that time, our understanding of what it was we were seeing has changed as we've learned more and more about our universe and how it works. It's only natural that such change will continue to occur as we continue to learn more and more about what we see when we look up. And that's what Brown presents us with in this book; while he takes a stand on Pluto's planethood, for me the real core of the book was the process of discovery, the broadening of the solar system and human understanding of it, and how what we are continuing to learn forces us to rethink what we thought we already knew. Easy to follow even for a lay reader, at times the book feels more like a novel than a recounting a scientific work due to the thrill of discovering new stellar bodies it contains as well as the human tension from his personal life during the same period that Brown intersperses with his work searching for new planets. I can therefore recommend the book even for people who don't care whether Pluto is a planet or not, because it isn't just about taking a position in that debate, but about discovery in space and what it means for us here on this planet.