Tuesday, December 14, 2010

thoughts on: How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It ComingHow I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown

Thoughts before reading:  Pluto's demotion seemed wrong to me, on an emotional level.  So wrong that I wrote an epic limerick* about it at the time. (I believe it was my friend Sarah who suggested I should.)   I thought once something had been named a planet, it should remain a planet no matter how small, funny looking, or wonky its orbit is. (How would we react if someone declared that Australia isn't really a continent? It just seems mean spirited.) When I saw this book coming out, though, I decided to read it with an open mind.

Thoughts after reading:  Brown makes a compelling case for Pluto's non-planetary status.  He also writes in a very accessible, friendly style.  (Funnily enough, he himself mentions the continent - Australia argument in his book.)  He convinced me that Pluto should not be considered a planet, but it will always have a spot in my solar system.

What convinced me?  There is historic precedence for it.  When the first few asteroids were discovered, they were named and designated planets.  Then scientists realized that there was a whole lot of those little guys all orbiting together in what we now call The Asteroid Belt.  Similarly, long after Pluto was named a planet in 1930, there were many more similar objects discovered way out there in the Kuiper Belt.  Brown is the discoverer of several of these, and it was their discovery that precipitated the astronomy cartel's big decision about Pluto.  They had to decide what was and was not a planet.  

* The Epic Limerick of Pluto
Pluto, the last of our nine.
As a planet, we thought you fine.
You wobble a bit,
but always did fit.
Until Science, in space drew a line.

No irregular orbits allowed!
Came shouts from the science crowd.
Too small anyway.
They said that sad day.
Then they voted and stated aloud:

Lesser Object that Orbits the Sun
Your status as planet: Undone!
Charon at your side,
You kept your pride
and laughed at their pretense of fun.

What difference will make this name?
Was it intended to bring you to shame?
You know you're adored
by the non-science horde
who will love their dear Pluto, the same.


red said...

Alas poor Pluto, I barely knew ye.

I am glad he chose to make his arguement to the public though. Besides doing wonders for his reputation, its good to know why he did it.

Missus Wookie said...

This is on my list to read next year - glad you liked it. :)