The book reads as if it's spoken by your best friend, who happens to be REALLY knowledgable and enthusiastic on the subject of Pluto.
The text is a light read (you don't need to put your science-brain in gear), but covers a wealth of information whilst remaining engaging at all times. It goes far beyond the facts and figures of the (ex)planet and gives you the stories and politics of it's recognition.
The book itself is also lovely. A small embossed hardback, full of pictures (many in colour)and clear uncluttered pages.
A joy of a book!
This is a cool little book, beautifully printed, covered and bound and a small treat to behold.
It does what it says on the tin and offers a potted history of the planet / not-planet / maybe dwarf planet.
The astronomical data is maybe a little thin on the ground but no matter, this isn't a hard science book but rather an attempt to inject life and atmosphere into the little planet that has been bullied pretty much since its discovery.
Perhaps the most startling revelation of all was how badly the astronomical union handled the whole reclassifying debarcle, a decision that many leading scientists still disagree with.
Its worrying when the worlds leading minds bicker over how to classify a small, hydro-static rock at the edge of the our solar system. Is there 8 planets in our solar system now or are there many more? Depends on your point of view and which school of thought you ascribe to, not a good state of affairs when our children are being taught this stuff in school.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in matters of astronomy, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Since childhood, I have always been fascinated by Space. The possibilities and unexplained phenomena continue to excite me to this day. Arguably, if one wants to lear about the mysteries of space, a good starting point would be our own solar system.
Since learning (a few years ago now...) that Pluto may not be the 'last' planet of of solar system, I have continued to wonder what may be ahead. In fact, I should mention that technically, Pluto is no longer considered to be a 'planet', but a part of a larger group of cosmic bodies.
This book gives the reader a concise and easy to follow understanding of what Pluto is, its discovery and what this means for us. There are some very nice pictures, however, these are all clustered in the (near) centre of the book as they are printed on finer paper; I would have like to seen such pictures distributed throughout the book. However, if it is content one is after, this book will serve that purpose well.
You can buy T-shirts with slogans like "don't worry Pluto- I'm not a planet either". The status of Pluto, the rock formerly known as the Ninth Planet, is a lot more important to a lot more people than you'd expect. After all, it's just a rock a long way away in a weird orbit in space- whether we call it a planet or not doesn't matter, right? Well, in fact, wrong- and this book will tell you why.
Alan Boyle is a science writer for MSNBC and is clearly expert not only in the field, but in writing about science in a way that makes it interesting and brings out the drama and character, whilst putting across plenty of facts in an understandable way. At under 250 fairly small pages it's also a quick and easy read that never drags.
It's broadly in chronological order and there are twists and turns. When it comes to Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto back in 1930, it is a reverential biography- when it comes to the recent IAU summit where Pluto's status was hotly debated, it becomes a political drama.
Boyle's suggestions for why Pluto is so loved by many people, especially children, make a lot of sense. But Boyle also doesn't shy away from the question of 'does it really matter?', possibly the only question that isn't satisfactorily answered as the whole thing does begin, by the end, to seem like a waste of time...
An excellent example of a readable science book with a broad appeal. It's all well printed with some high-quality pictures and an interesting embossed hardcover, a neat little object.
Astronomy was one of my great interests as a child, but had I moved on to other interests by my late teens. The latest developments had thus passed me by when in 2006 the mass media with much hullaballoo noted the decision of the International Astronomical Union at its conference in Prague to reclassify Pluto as a "dwarf planet", reducing the list of planets from nine to eight. There was much public outcry, but as usual the story behind the headlines is more complex than what the media present.
Alan Boyle here gives us a succinct and accessible account of the controversy behind the headlines. While carrying a certain amount of sympathy for those who oppose Pluto's demotion, Boyle is no head-in-the-sand conservative opposing any change. He realises that Pluto cannot continue to be regarded in the same way it once was, with the discovery of several other objects beyond Neptune comparable in size to Pluto, yet the new IAU definitions are clearly a nonsense.
The critical point, and the one that defines the distinction between a planet and dwarf planet in the new IAU definitions, is the criterion that a planet must "[have] cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit". It doesn't take much nous to realise that such a definition is extremely fuzzy and frankly unscientific. The scientific process itself seems to have strayed from the path in this instance.
As appendices to the main text come "What to tell your kids about planets"; the full text of the various proposals made at the IAU 2006 conference in Prague; and a section with data on the eight planets and five hitherto recognised dwarf planets.
Whilst an excellent work in many ways, it's slightly odd that the book contains no mention whatsoever of another "plutoid" discovered in 2004 with the appellation "Orcus", a body of similar size to Pluto in an orbit of very similar characteristics, including the 3:2 orbital resonance with Neptune which gives orbital stability by remaining a great distance from Neptune despite the proximity of their respective orbits.
I would also have liked to have seen more discussion of the exact nature of the various categories of outer solar system objects now used: Centaurs, Neptunian Trojans, plutoids & plutinos, classical Kuiper belt objects ("cubewanos"), resonant KBOs, scattered disc objects, detached objects, Oort cloud objects and so on.
Despite such minor faults, this book has nudged me into further investigation of our current understanding of the outer solar system.
on 1 March 2010
In the press last week it was announced that the makers of Trivial Pursuit had run a global quiz game online. One of the questions they asked was `Which planet travels once around the sun every 248 years whether it needs to or not'? The answer they gave was, of course, `Pluto'.
Except that it isn't a full, or `classical' planet any more and hasn't been since a meeting of the IAU (International Astronomical Union) in August 2006. At this meeting, it was reclassified as a `dwarf' planet, and placed it in the same category that includes the solar system's largest asteroid, Ceres. Hence the solar system currently numbers eight planets.
I provide this information to demonstrate two things: i) that a lot of people are still unaware that Pluto is no longer considered a `proper' planet; ii) the reprehensible standard of research/checking carried out by the makers of `Triv'.
Reading this book I was astonished to find that no satisfactory definition for a planet existed prior to the IAU conference, and this is probably still the case: many astronomers are still squabbling over the definition and indeed the status of Pluto itself.
This book traces the history of the discovery of all the planets, before focussing specifically on the discovery of Pluto in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, a Kansas farm boy. Tombaugh astonishingly held no scientific degree until after the discovery was made, when a special award paid for his passage through college. Pluto existed as a hypothetical body before the discovery, but most of the suppositions about it proved to be wildly incorrect.
Author Alan Boyle then covers more wide-ranging ground - including his description of the search for further objects in the Trans-Neptunium Kuiper belt and Oort cloud (for definitions, read the book!) - before landing smack up to date with the debate over Pluto's `demotion'. The author himself doesn't pass judgement on its new status, he merely presents the scientific data for you to make up your own mind.
The book is packed with fascinating detail; Boyle has produced an engrossing read that's written in a lively, entertaining and lightly humorous style. He doesn't lay his research on too thickly and it's always pellucid even though he's tackling some fairly complex stuff at times.
It's therefore aimed at a popular, rather than academic, audience and if the intention was to reach as many people as possible, then the author has succeeded in his aims. I think this would be a fine book for an intelligent teenager with an interest in science: I know I would have loved it if I'd read it when I was 17 or 18.
This small but beautiful hardback book represents the best in popular science writing. It reads like a thriller but informs and educates as it goes. Pluto was always a popular little planet, following a strange orbit on the outer edge of the solar system. This book starts with a brief history of the discovery of the planets, and moves on to the discovery of Pluto in 1930 at a time when images from telescopes had to be checked by eye rather than computer assessments. However, as time has passed, astronomers have learned more about Pluto's neighbourhood and it seems that there is a lot more out there than was visible in 1930, and that Pluto is really rather on the small side. This has got the guardians of the skies who like to name and number what is in the sky, into a lather because some thought that Pluto didn't really qualify for the description "planet" at all. The debate about the status of Pluto became an epic battle with strong feelings on both sides and it is the story of this battle which is told so well here. You learn a lot about the nature of scientific debate, as scientists grapple with the question of what makes a planet worthy of the name, and also about the current thinking about the state of our solar system. It is an engrossing read - scientific, but by no means heavy. You won't find yourself bogged down with equations and funny squiggles, but you will find yourself fascinated and intrigued and probably unable to put this down. A wonderful book!
At it's heart `The Case for Pluto' is simply a biography of a planet. This looks at the history of the planet, how it was discovered and the events surrounding that, how it's physical composition was worked out and the developments around it's designation as planet or dwarf-planet and the subsequent controversy over it's status. This is very easy to read and although a science book the ideas and terms used are easy to grasp and no complex equations or ideas are included to confuse the general reader. The modern day arguments over the planets status seem rather petty and childish and although I am sure this is an important issue for astronomers, you do wonder if they have anything else to worry about! There is a colour middle plate section with various photos of planets and moons, as well as artists impressions of Pluto and some outer edge areas of the solar system. There are also three appendices, one which looks at the IAU resolutions relating to what qualifies as a planet or not, some basic statistics about the planets in the solar system and frequently asked questions by kids. All in all this is a clear and engaging book and whilst the naming controversy still lingers, this book is best read as an account of a beloved planet in our solar system that has a rich and interesting history.
Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
This is a great book in many ways and was so much better than I expected it to be.
Firstly, I love the design of the book itself as an artifact. It has a wonderful cover, with a spot varnished strip across the middle with a colour rendering of the standard solar system image in it, the symbol for Pluto embossed across the cover and the size of the book, smallish, like the "planet" itself.
Secondly the text is really easy to read and understand. Facts are leaping off every page. I had underestimated how far behind I had fallen in knowledge of the solar system, despite being a keen astronomer when younger. I did not know that Pluto had two extra moonlets whizzing around it.
Third, there are some great colour images included that I have never seen before. Again reminding me of my ignorance!
Lastly, the human aspect is dealt with sympathetically. The discovery by Tombaugh, only to have his "planet" demoted in later years in public at a celebration for Tombaugh. The fuss created over its classification and the zeal with which some folk will pursue their vision, even at great emotional cost to others is described even handedly.
If you have any interest at all in astronomy get this book, now!
There really is no such thing as bad publicity, it seems. For while Pluto might have been publicly humiliated and downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006, looking at the bibliography at the back of this book will tell you that the majority of resources used by author Boyle were written in the past three years. Jupiter and Saturn must be looking on in envy at all the attention the little fella is receiving.
The Case For Pluto works as a history of the planet (at least from us Earthlings' point of view), as a defence for its status and as a conduit to far bigger issues in the solo system. It's energetically written and skips between the subjective and the objective with a passionate voice tying it all together. I'm neither a dedicated astronomer nor a child, but I feel confident in saying that it can appeal to both and everyone in-between.
Appropriately, the book comes in a reasonably compact size. Not quite a pocket book (unless you're wearing combat trousers) but perfect for carrying around and housed in a nice and sturdy hardback cover. And with Pluto back in the news recently, Boyle's book is bound to be popping up in dozens of bibliographies itself in the near future.