How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

Book - 2010
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The astronomer who inadvertently triggered the "demotion" of Pluto in his effort to officially recognize the solar system's tenth planet describes the ensuing debates and public outcry while revealing the behind-the-scenes story of his discovery.
Publisher: New York : Spiegel & Grau, 2010
ISBN: 9780385531085
0385531087
Characteristics: xiii, 267 p. ; 21 cm

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GKL10101
Sep 19, 2018

Pluto got demoted to the status of "dwarf planet" in 2006 in a scientifically sound but emotionally traumatizing decision. Eris is the space object that forced the issue: it's nearly the same size and significantly more massive. This book is by the astronomer who discovered Eris, and several other distant near-planets. It describes the often-painstaking process of planet-hunting; the possible skullduggery by a Spanish team that, for a time, was credited with the official "discovery" of one of the dwarf planets even though there's evidence that all they did was steal some data; and the somewhat bizarre process by which the "dwarf planet" designation actually got created—all set against the backdrop of the author's marriage and birth of his daughter. It's a fantastic read.

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deebitner
Aug 16, 2018

I admit I have warm feelings for a very cold little solar system body. Dr. Brown obviously does too, but he’s also into science for learning’s sake, and he has a sense of humor. I will recommend this book right off the bat, before I even go into why I recommend it. I think it’s a great read for everyone at all remotely interested in the nomenclature debate.

At the heart of the debate is the question of what makes a planet, and how is it different from other solar system bodies. Brown covers the history of the question, which seems to have been asked very quietly before the International Astronomical Union of 2006 where they stunned the world by revoking Pluto’s planetary status. (Which, by the way, is not “killing” Pluto. One of the best ways to get my husband on a rant is to mention this - he’ll go for half an hour straight on how a rock does not care what it is labelled.) Before I read this book, I had no idea that Ceres and Vesta were considered planets in the 1800s, then had that status almost silently removed. Brown describes the circumstances around that before going into his own work.

And what work it was! I personally think the whole reason that Pluto was demoted was that Brown’s work was being noted and the IAU thought “Holy shit, we’ll have fifty planets soon! That’s too many for kids to learn in school!” and did the right thing from there. I am also personally a fan of fifty planets, but I am not the IAU. Nor is Brown, but his team’s work on finding Haumea and Quaoar and Eris and Sedna was simply amazing. (And would get us into the teens on planets if we kept Pluto anyway.)

Brown weaves together the story of his personal life - including meeting the love of his life and the birth of their child - and his work on the outer solar system. He talks about scientific ethics when dealing with discovery and tells his side of a controversy that’s so weird you really should read it for yourself. I adore the personal touches, because what is going on in one field of life dictates reactions in another for almost everyone in the world. To hear about a scientist of Brown’s caliber and how he found his own balance might be valuable to someone in the future.

Ultimately, though, it’s not for the personal touches I recommend this book. It’s for the history, for Brown’s clear and deep love for his work and the others who do it, for his respect for those who make it possible for him to get the observations he and his team used. I simply enjoyed reading this book. The audiobook is just as good - I checked that out and listened as well. Five of five stars, and thank you, Dr. Brown!

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diannehildebrand
Jan 27, 2017

I absolutely loved this book. Written by the Caltech astronomer who discovered the "planet" past Pluto which led to Pluto and his new planet and all the other large round objects in the Kuiper belt being declared non-planets by the International Astronomical Union. A perfect blend of science and life, this book is very well written, funny and fun to read, plus you learn a lot about the solar system and the way astronomers work.

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sayle
Jul 15, 2015

This is a delightful memoir of astronomer Mike Brown’s discovery of Eris, which helped seal Pluto’s fate, classification-wise. Brown weaves into his tale of scientific discovery the story of meeting his wife and of his daughter’s babyhood, which he approached scientifically, carefully measuring her sleep and eating. He also details the controversy over the discovery of Haumea and makes a convincing argument that another researcher unethically used Brown’s observational data to scoop Brown’s team on the discovery announcement. The book is engagingly written, including several laugh-out-loud moments, with scientific explanations that are very accessible to the lay reader. You’ll get a feel for what it’s like to be a planetary scientist on a day-to-day basis and to be a member of the professional astronomical community. Highly recommended.

ChristchurchLib Sep 22, 2014

"The provocative title of astronomer Mike Brown's memoir, How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming, refers to Brown's research that led to the International Astronomical Union's decision that Pluto is not a planet (it's now considered a dwarf planet). This engaging memoir is about more than science, though. While detailing his studies of the icy objects in orbit near Pluto, Brown relates the significance of the project, describes his calling as a scientist, and tells how he met the woman he would marry. " Biography and Memoir September 2014 newsletter http://www.libraryaware.com/996/NewsletterIssues/ViewIssue/4d9a94c7-443c-40a7-a017-c9b011701dcd?postId=251ef700-1b07-4a42-b9b1-8e9e8cbbbd1a

Quimeras May 31, 2013

Overall, I found “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had Coming” to be an informative and enjoyable read. I especially liked learning about the process of discovery, classification, and naming of objects in space.

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efriedrichsen
Aug 24, 2012

Well written book about the debate surrounding Pluto and many other aspects of astronomy. Science writing as it should be; it can be read by those keenly aware of the topic just as easily as those casually interested in astronomy. What made it a great book for me were the (often humorous) departures into the author's personal life.

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bluebelle11
Mar 01, 2012

This is my kind of book. I've always loved astronomy and Pluto always had a special place in my heart so I was really upset when I learned that it had been demoted to dwarf planet. Reading this book totally explained to me why this decision had to be made.
Other than that, it was just a terrific read with humorous elements and the science was explained very well.

SuzieQ1 Jun 13, 2011

Fun read on what could be a boring subject -- but isn't.

Cdnbookworm May 17, 2011

When the official word of astronomers decided that Pluto wasn't a planet after all, I was upset. How could what I learned about the ninth planet be wrong? I said that Pluto would always be a planet to me.
Then I saw this book on the new shelf at work and decided to read more about it. Mike Brown, while not one who voted on the decision, definitely had a hand in the final outcome. He told us about his lifelong search for planets, and how he worked with other astronomers to keep trying to find planets beyond Pluto, all the while asking "What is a planet?". We learn about the struggles for an answer to that question and how there could be many different ways of looking at it. Brown lets us into both his personal life and his work life here and we see the different players, the astronomical community and how it works, and how he struggled with how to respond as each change occurred. He came across as a nice, earnest man and a good teacher. His explanations were very easily understood, without feeling like they had been simplified for us. This book has changed and expanded my view on the planets and the other objects out there. I now understand why Pluto isn't a planet and I'm okay with that.

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Cdnbookworm May 17, 2011

Cdnbookworm thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

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