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Pity poor Pluto: It's a planet that was discovered because of a mistake, a planet that turned out not to be a planet at all, thanks to a still-disputed decision made in 2006. And yet, Pluto is the planet best-loved by Americans, especially children, one that may have contained the building blocks of life billions of years ago and may well serve as life's last redoubt billions of ...
Pity poor Pluto: It's a planet that was discovered because of a mistake, a planet that turned out not to be a planet at all, thanks to a still-disputed decision made in 2006. And yet, Pluto is the planet best-loved by Americans, especially children, one that may have contained the building blocks of life billions of years ago and may well serve as life's last redoubt billions of years from now.
In The Case for Pluto, award-winning science writer Alan Boyle traces the tiny planet's ups and downs, its strange appeal, the reasons behind its demotion, and the reasons why it should be set back in the planetary pantheon.
The Case for Pluto is the must-read tale of a cosmic underdog that has captured the hearts of millions: an endearing little planet that is changing the way we see the universe beyond our backyard.
Alan Boyle is MSNBC.com’s science editor and the award-winning blogger behind Cosmic Log. He’s been a talking head on NBC’s The Today Show and the MSNBC cable channel, holding forth on scientific subjects ranging from the chances of an asteroid Armageddon to the 3-D wizardry behind the “Harry Potter” movies. But he writes better than he talks.
Boyle, the science writer for msnbc.com, has written a charming and informative book that requires no science background. The International Astronomical Union's decision to downgrade Pluto's status from a planet is the book's jumping-off point, from which Boyle backtracks to relate the history of Pluto's discovery and naming, the discovery of its moon, its scientific features, and all the developments of its scientific study, including developments in the technology of telescopes and space missions. The personal element of the story adds spice to the narrative, with astronomers arguing over Pluto's identity and the public weighing in with their own personal attachment to Pluto as a planet. The book concludes with an appendix on what to tell your kids about planets. (Sci-Tech Book News)
When the International Astronomical Union voted in 2006 to evict Pluto from the roster of planets in our solar system, little did they expect the public outcry that would arise. Boyle, an award-winning science writer and the science editor at MSNBC.com, presents the issues regarding Pluto's status, both popular and scientific, in a winning fashion. After its discovery in 1930, the icy rock formerly known as Planet X was embraced by the public imagination, partly due to its status as "the oddball of the solar system"; no doubt having Walt Disney name a cartoon dog after it also helped. But as astronomers learned more about the solar system and the distant Kuiper Belt at its fringes, they realized that Pluto, with its lopsided spin and strangely tilted orbit was very special indeed. Now astronomers have identified at least five dwarf planets, or "mini-worlds," orbiting our Sun. When the New Horizons spacecraft reaches Pluto in 2015, we'll know more about this "underdog of the solar system." Even then, the furor is bound to continue. Photos. (Nov.) (Publishers Weekly, September 14, 2009)
1 The Planet in the Cornfield.
2 Fellow Wanderers.
3 The Search for Planet X.
4 Pluto and Its Little Pals.
5 The Meaning of a Moon.
6 There Goes the Neighborhood.
7 Not Yet Explored.
8 Betting on the Tenth Planet.
9 The Battle of Prague.
10 The Lighter Side of Pluto.
1 1 The Great Planet Debate.
12 The Day of the Dwarfs.
13 Planet X Redux.
14 Alien Plutos.
15 The Case for Pluto.
Appendix A. What to Tell Your Kids about Planets.
Appendix B. The International Astronomical Union's Resolutions and Revisions.
Appendix C. Planetary Vital Statistics.
Posted May 17, 2009
I'm the author of this book (my first!), so I have to admit I'm a little bit biased. But I tried to put forth the case honestly, drawing upon centuries of history as well as Pluto's recent "demotion" ("reclassification" might be more P.C.) and even more recent discoveries about our own solar system and the hundreds of other planetary systems beyond ours.
My view isn't that Pluto should be restored as the "ninth planet," or the "littlest planet," but that Pluto and others of its tribe (as well as Ceres and possibly Vesta in the asteroid belt) should be considered planets of a sort. If you want to call that sort "dwarf planets," that's fine. In fact, I think you'll find this meshes pretty well with what a lot of experts in planetary science are saying. To rule out Pluto (and Eris, and Haumea, and all the other dwarfs) on the grounds that they're much smaller than Earth would be as silly as ruling out Earth because it's much smaller than Jupiter. And the idea of "clearing out orbits" begins to get very squishy once you look into the kinds of planets that are being discovered beyond our solar system (as well as the kinds of planets that are likely to be discovered in our own Oort Cloud).
You'll find all this laid out in the book. You'll also learn about the personalities and the peculiarities behind the Pluto story. For example, you might know that Pluto was named by an 11-year-old girl (who sadly just passed away at the age of 90) and that Pluto the Disney dog was named after the planet - but did you know that the name was almost thrown out because it reminded some people of a mineral-water laxative, or that one of the first sci-fi stories about Pluto was a pulpy tale of three sexes on the mysterious planet?
There are no villains in the Pluto story, as far as I can tell - just scientists who want to do the right thing, all in their own different ways. It's up to the wide scientific community, as well as the even wider public, to decide how the story eventually turns out. I hope you'll find that "The Case for Pluto" offers the best evidence to help you make your own decision.
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Posted December 7, 2009
I was hoping to find a great book on Pluto, in a more metaphorical sense, that described how this planet somehow became a non-planet. One thing I really insist on, is an author who knows how to write. I was severely disappointed with this one.
Although this particular author is supposedly a cosmic space writer, he does not bring us into a direction of truth or understanding of why this decision was so outrageous.
I'm sorry I wasted my time and money on this book. Since this was the first book for this author, I would sincerely hope he chooses another profession.
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Posted November 29, 2009
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Posted November 11, 2009
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