The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet

Tyson, Neil deGrasse
W.W. Norton 2009
ISBN 978-0-393-06520-6
Date finished: 2009-07-23

Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC, surveys the flap over Pluto's status as a planet or non-planet. When the Hayden opened in 2000, the exhibits were carefully non-committal about whether Pluto is a planet or not. For pedagogical reasons, the Hayden's displays group the planets into similar sets: the rocky terrestrial planets and moons, the gas giants, and the small icy bodies of the Kuiper Belt.

A year after the Hayden re-opened, the NYT noticed Pluto's absence and ran a front-page story that brought the change to widespread attention. Tyson received a flood of letters, mostly complaining about Pluto's change of status, and editorial cartoonists loved it; selected letters and cartoons are included. Tyson also briefly describes the search for Planet X, Pluto's discovery by Clyde Tombaugh, and the succession of Kuiper Belt objects discovered since 2000. The International Astronomical Union eventually adopted a definition for "planet" that requires the body to have cleared out almost all of the debris from its orbit; this condition rules out Pluto, which has accordingly been termed a "dwarf planet".

Tyson is an excellent expositor of the whole media-created tempest and of the science leading to the change, applying a light and humourous touch.

Tagged: astronomy


%T The Pluto Files
%S The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet
%A Tyson, Neil deGrasse
%G ISBN 978-0-393-06520-6
%P 186pp
%@ 2009-07-23
%I W.W. Norton
%D 2009
%K astronomy

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