It’s hard to imagine, but in 1992 astronomer Mike Brown didn’t know what the Kuiper Belt was. He had never heard of it. But just a few years later in 1999, he bet another scientist that within five more years he would find another planet out there at the edge of the solar system, past Pluto. It took a five-day extension of the bet, but Brown did it. And so began the death of Pluto as a planet, but the rise of a whole new class of objects called dwarf planets. Brown has written a book about his adventures as a planet hunter and eventual planet killer, called “How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming.”
His book is a highly readable, first person account of an astronomer who, by chance, realized he had remarkable penchant for discovering small, far away objects. The book is filled with humor, candor, geeky tendencies (he thought the first sonogram of his daughter looked like images from Venera 2 spacecraft from Venus), engaging personal anecdotes – and even romance, intrigue, mystery, fatherly love, and science.
“Discovery is exciting,” Brown writes in his book, “no matter how big or small or close or distant. But in the end, even better is discovering something that is capable of transforming our entire view of the sun and the solar system.”
And Brown’s discoveries have transformed our view of the solar system (some people have changed the world — how many can claim they have changed the solar system?!)
The discoveries of more objects in the Kuiper Belt turned on the heat of the debate of whether everyone’s favorite misfit planet, Pluto, was actually a planet or just a member of a new, quickly growing class of what are now called dwarf planets.
From this, some will claim, our planetary mnemonic went from “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” to “Mean Very Evil Men Just Shortened Up Nature.”
Mean and evil or educated? You decide.
Want a chance to win a copy of the book? Universe Today has 5 copies to giveaway!
UPDATE: We have winners! They are:
Just send an email to [email protected] with the subject line of “Killing Pluto” by Monday, December 6 at 12 Noon Pacific Daylight Time. We’ll randomly choose 5 emails and notify the winners.
Find more about the book at Amazon.com (the book will be available on Dec. 7, 2010) or at Mike Brown’s website, Mike Brown’s Planets. Here’s a link to the section on his website about the book.