David's Reviews > How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown
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's review
Feb 27, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: astronomy, science
Read in February, 2011

Very few books about science convey the excitement of discovery, the hard work, the drama and intrigue, and the thought processes that go on, inside the mind of a scientist. This fabulous book does a wonderful job with all this! Unlike many other popular science books that try too hard to be humorous, entertaining, and often silly, this book gives a light-hearted touch to a dramatic year in the life of a scientist.

At one point in the book, Mike Brown wrote that he received tenure at Cal Tech, but that wasn't the most exciting thing that had happened to him that week. He had just discovered a new planet, bigger than Pluto, the first new planet discovery in over 70 years, but even that wasn't the most exciting event of his week. No, the most exciting event of the week was his engagement to his fiancee!

The author discovered numerous objects in the outer edge of the system, known as the Kuiper belt. Some scientists believe that discovery itself, is the most important thing. (This includes an astronomer who "stole" a discovery from Mike Brown, and announced it immediately, before trying to learn anything about it.) However, to Brown, the best part of his job is not the discovery itself, but the process of investigating his discoveries; he loves to use large telescopes to learn all he can about the newly discovered objects. He describes why he does not immediately announce his discoveries, until he has gathered enought information to give some understanding of it to the general public. He especially likes the Kuiper belt region, as it affords information about the early period of solar system formation.

A big portion of the book centers on the question, of what is the definition of a planet. The definition of a planet, believe it or not, is a very emotion-laden issue for so many people. It's not simple, and many astronomers have struggled with this issue. Mike Brown makes it clear that what is important is not how you label an astronomical object, but what are the scientific concepts behind the thinking. This book lays out the concepts and makes them crystal clear--truly fascinating!
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Valerie I thought the most exciting event of the week was when his girlfriend became his fiancee...?

David Ahh--you're right! I've corrected it--thanks.

message 3: by Ted (last edited Jan 25, 2015 03:17PM) (new)

Ted Does Brown agree with the IAU definition which relegated his discovery (and Pluto) to non-planet status? Wiki now says that there is a reasonable probability that Eris (Brown's discovery) is actually a bit smaller than Pluto, and is certainly much closer in size to Pluto than originally thought.

David Ted, I don't remember all the ins and outs of the issue (it's been a few years since I read the book). But I think that at the time of his writing, Brown did not disagree with the IAU definition.

message 5: by Ted (new)

Ted Thanks David. Gee, if only we all could have weeks like that once in awhile. 8)

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