While in Dallas for a few days over 4th of July at the National Federation for the Blind’s 2010 national conference, I read a short book that I think you’ll really like. Written by my favorite living scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet (find this book) is the story of America’s love for Pluto which reigned as most beloved planet in our night skies for 76 years. Of course, Pluto is still the most beloved celestial object, but 4 years ago it was stripped of its planetary status. The Pluto Files follows Pluto from discovery through demotion.
Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 at the Lowell Observatory. Before it was discovered, it was predicted to exist based on Neptune’s orbit and was known as Planet X, which may be familiar to you if you are a fan of old-school Merrie Melodies cartoons. About a year after it’s discovery and naming, the name Pluto was also given to a relatively new character in the world of Disney.
As technology advanced, scientists learned that there were other objects in our solar system that were even bigger than Pluto! All of a sudden, a decision needed to be made: introduce these objects as full-fledged planets or give them their own class and put Pluto in there with them.
As a very public figurehead of the first mainstream exhibit to not put Pluto next to Neptune, deGrasse Tyson was soon hated by the American public who didn’t want to give up what they held as constant in their life, i.e. that there are 9 planets. The IAU, which is in charge of naming celestial objects, eventually debated and voted on the fate of Pluto, as well as Eris (which is larger than Pluto), Ceres (which was at one time considered a planet), a few others that have been found and probably more yet-to-be-found. The IAU came up with a definition for a planet, and Pluto didn’t fit the bill. Instead of promoting Eris and Ceres, both, along with Pluto, were given dwarf planet status.
People protested, sent hate-mail, and refused to follow the new rule. The Pluto Files is a great account of atmosphere at the time. PBS aired a good companion piece, which you should watch too. It can be viewed on PBS’s website or instantly from Netflix.
Supplementary materials for this post are as follows:
@ScienceGoddess swoons over #sciencehottie Neil deGrasse Tyson with her video review.
Short, humorous clips from The Pluto Files.
Live action/animation of an explanation for Pluto’s demotion.
A song by popular folk-indie artist, Lisa Loeb, about 11 planets.
Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter and Facebook.
Filed under: Great Scientists, Today's Science | Tagged: Books, Ceres, Clude Tombaugh, Disney, Dwarf, Dwarf Planet, Eris, hate-mail, IAU, Looney Tunes, Lowell Observatory, Merrie Melodies, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Netflix, Planet, Planet X, Pluto, Scientific Hotties, Scientists, Tyson, YouTube | 5 Comments »