Title: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
Author: Mike Brown
Release Date: December 7, 2010
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Non-Fiction, Space
Rating: 5 out of 5
In this book about the demise of the planet Pluto, Mike Brown details the events that led up to the planet’s demotion. He chronicles his search for Kuiper Belt objects larger than Pluto and his discovery of the tenth planet, Planet X.
When people have to name one person who is associated with the demotion of Pluto from planet status, they will probably point to Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of The Pluto Files and director of the Haydn Planetarium in New York City. But it’s actually Mike Brown they should be thinking of; after all, Brown made the discovery that set off the discussion about Pluto’s status. Mike Brown was the one who discovered an object bigger than Pluto in the Kuiper Belt, a region beyond Neptune which, like the asteroid belt, contains small objects. His discovery is what ultimately killed Pluto, and in this book, Brown talks about the discoveries and makes a convincing case for why Pluto had it coming.
How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is an insightful and appealing read. Brown strips much of the romance from the profession of astronomer; he demonstrates to the reader that it’s not just looking through telescopes at beautiful objects in the night sky. In order to find the tenth planet, Brown wrote his own computer code to analyze pictures he had the telescope take. He had to be willing to leave his family on Thanksgiving, if that was the only available telescope time. He talks about the frustration of clouds and light pollution on viewing nights. He details long hours of combing and searching pictures, not even sure if what he was looking for existed. And to top it all off, once Brown did finally find something, he and his team had to keep things quiet while they ensured that it was what they thought it was. All in all, the life of an astronomer is not a glamorous one, but in the end, I don’t think Brown would have ever said he would have been happier doing something else.
The writing in How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had It Coming is really engaging. I will be honest, I had my doubts going in; after all, it was written by a scientist, someone who isn’t necessarily accustomed to writing for a layperson. But Brown is funny and self-deprecating; he injects the narrative with warmth and his enthusiasm is infectious. He explains everything clearly and concisely but never condescends to the reader. Additionally, the story is never dry. It’s always interesting and keeps the reader’s attention from beginning to end. It’s a real example for those in academia trying to write for a lay audience; I can’t sing its praises highly enough.
Brown makes an excellent case for why Pluto shouldn’t be, nor should it ever have been, a planet. When it was discovered, no one quite knew what it was, so it was called a planet for lack of a better word. Now that we know there are other Pluto-like objects out there, it doesn’t belong with the rest of the planets in the solar system. I thought Brown had a very well thought out argument, but I’ll admit he didn’t need to convince me. I agreed that Pluto needed to die (and it had it coming) before I ever picked up the book.
If you’re looking for a fun and interesting non-fiction book, look no further. It’s an incredibly quick read; you’ll be surprised at how fast it goes, considering it’s non-fiction. You will also marvel at the fact that you are hooked on the narrative, unable to put it down, even though you know most of what’s coming. Brown is a talented writer, and I certainly hope he writes more books aimed at the reading public because I will gladly read anything he writes from now on!