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How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming Paperback – 24 Jan 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Reprint edition (24 Jan. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385531109
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385531108
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 195,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 27 April 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have read a few books about Pluto, some good, some average. This one is excellent. I read Govert Schilling's Hunt for Plant X, which covers a lot of the same ground - namely the hunt for object in the Kuiper Belt, an area of space out past Neptune - so I knew this one could be good. In the 1930s they found Pluto and it was long considered a planet, but scientific opinion changed as more and more object with masses not all that much smaller than Pluto began to cast doubt on Pluto's status.

This book is the story of one of most prominent Kupier Belt hunters, Mike Brown. A well respected astronomer with access to some of the planet's best telescopes, he set about hunting down a new planet after making a bet with a fellow astronomer. The book nicely describes his thought processes, the discovery of each new object, his marriage and birth of his daughter, and the nail biting decision about whether his biggest discovery was to be deemed the tenth planet and put his name in the history books. There is also a juicy bit about how the whole thing was almost stolen from under his nose!

There is no complicated science and the book is written in a way that means you don't need to know much about astronomy to enjoy this book, but it may stir your interest in what is still out there, currently just beyond our vision. I would recommend this book to anyone.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER on 14 Dec. 2010
Format: Hardcover
and new fatherhood. Mike Brown's delightful memoir/science lesson chronicles the few years where, in short order, he found - with the help of others - a possible tenth planet, became a husband and father, and finally, watched his dream of discovering a planet disappear as he argued that Pluto should be stricken from the litany of planets. Lots of "stuff" happening in a few short years, and Brown writes well about topics both personal and professional.

Brown, the son of a rocket-man, grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. Always interested in science in general, and astronomy in particular,he earned his PH.d and was hired by Caltech in Pasadena. For many years he was the proverbial free academic spirit who taught and looked at the sky, night after night, always savoring the dark nights of the moon's orbit. Between teaching and researching, he spent a lot of time searching the skies using telescopes in world-wide locations, trying to find "the tenth planet". In the early 2000's he meets a woman, falls in love, marries, and produces a child - a girl called Lilah. But during those years, he also produced two or three "maybe planets" - out past Neptune, close to the Kuiper Belt. Were they planets? What's the definition of a planet? Did the three "masses" he finds after years of patient searching deserve the title of "planet"? And, while we're at it, does the ninth planet, Pluto, deserve the title "planet"? After a few years, and Brown's contribution to the astronomical academic circles, certain determinations on the definition of "planet" are decided, and are a bittersweet accompaniment to Mike Brown's life.

Brown's combination of the personal and the professional parts of his life are told well in his book. He writes about science so well that even a science-dolt like me could understand MOST of what he writes about. That's a success in itself. It's a good read, not too long and not too heavy. Enjoy.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well, the title is deliberately provocative, and isn't going to enamour the book to stick-in-the-muds who still think there should be nine planets (there are rational numbers other than eight, but nine isn't one of them). Part of me thinks that's a shame, because this is a wonderful tale, a delightfully told autobiography interleaving Mike Brown's professional and personal life, with the emphasis on the former but the latter being interesting and moving too. I loved his scientific and statistical approach to fatherhood - a refreshingly different approach.

It's a shame that the decision to correct the 1930 classification of Pluto as the ninth planet has created publicity of the wrong sort, all focussed on Pluto rather than on the rich story that the discoveries have shown of the complexity and variety of the Solar System which is hidden by the old schoolbook nine-planet model.

The book's core story of planet-hunting and the successes in finding trans-Neptunian objects both big and small, is well told, and is entertaining, funny and informative as well as emotional too: it's a personal account and so one needs to be prepared to read it with that in mind and question objectivity when it comes to the contention surrounding Haumea in particular, but Mike Brown seems to have gone out of his way to seem be initially accepting and then open-minded about the role of the alternate discoverers, when the evidence and the failure of the Spaniards to be equally open leaves me at any rate in little doubt that it is Brown's team that deserve the credit that has at least partially come with the naming of 2003 EL61 as Haumea.
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This really is a good book - please do not be put off by the terrible, rather immature title as I nearly was. If you are at all interested in the life of experimental science of astronomy today then this is very much the book for you. It rather brings up to date the account given in the first chapters of Fred Hoyle's 'the black cloud' - only this time it's real life not fiction. This account centres on the discovery in recent years by Mike Brown and his team of the large Kuiper Belt objects - in particular Eris, which is slightly larger than Pluto and in a previous era would undoubtedly been hailed as the fabled tenth planet. It details the tremendous amount of hard work involved and alongside this, Mike's love life, his marriage and birth of his daughter. An intriguing account is given of an attempt (by a very cunning subterfuge) of a foreign astronomer to steal and claim for himself one of Mike's discoveries. This well illustrates the perennial problem in science of getting results published without them being stolen by someone else - which must nearly always involve a certain amount of initial secrecy. In respect of this he also mentions the case of Bell-Burnett who is often regarded as having her contribution to the discovery of Pulsars rather underplayed by her supervisor. The last chapter is a account of the demotion of Pluto (and hence Eris) to the status of dwarf planets by the IAU - a move strongly supported (with very full and drawn out reasons) by the author despite the fact that the decision is not to his advantage.
Overall this really is very interestingly written with the personal nicely intermingled with the practical and the description of astronomical practices at just the right level for a layman to the subject. I wish there had been more of it. Good luck in the future Mike!
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